Described as “evocative” and “kaleidoscopic” (The New York Times), composer Scott Wollschleger’s music is at times deconstructive, disembodied, and dystopic, anchored by his penchant for arresting instrumental colors. This remarkable recording features performances by soprano Corrine Byrne, trumpeter Andy Kozar, violist Anne Lanzilotti, cellist John Popham, pianist Karl Larson, Mivos Quartet, and Longleash trio.
|Longleash: Pala Garcia, violin John Popham, cello Renate Rohlfing, piano||14:27|
|Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, viola, Karl Larson, piano||13:32|
|03||Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World - Part I|
Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World - Part I
|Andy Kozar, trumpet, Corrine Byrne, soprano||6:41|
|John Popham, cello||8:00|
|05||Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World - Part II|
Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World - Part II
|Andy Kozar, trumpet, Corrine Byrne, soprano||3:27|
String Quartet no.2 “White Wall”
|Mivos String Quartet: Olivia de Prato, Josh Modney, Violins, Victor Lowrie, viola, Mariel Roberts, cello|
|08||Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World - Part III|
Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World - Part III
|Andy Kozar, trumpet, Corrine Byrne, soprano||1:43|
Described as “evocative” and “kaleidoscopic” (The New York Times), composer Scott Wollschleger’s music is at times deconstructive, disembodied, and dystopic, anchored by his penchant for arresting instrumental colors. Wollschleger probes timbre, instrumental relationships, and aesthetic implications to find transcendent moments in unique textures. Brontal Symmetry, the opening work written for the Longleash piano trio, is a sort of a puzzle. The work is comprised of a series of “discarded scraps” from other pieces, and Wollschleger introduces them, jumpcuts to other material, and comes back, playing a kind of memory game with the listener. The music itself careens between cartoonish, macabre, and mechanical — one could almost imagine it as the soundtrack to an avant-garde film noire. Soft Aberration, written for pianist Karl Larson and violist Anne Lanzilotti (who also produced the recording), is Feldmanesque in its temporal suspension, with exploratory phrases that are repeated with variation and framed with poignant silences. Wollschleger writes that the piano and viola parts project a “broken echo” of each other, striving to see in the other some mirror of their own material. The viola part employs white noise frequently, as if reaching for the shadow of full voiced music from a time before the piece began. He observes that this “broken echo” relationship imitates life, in which we are always trying to understand and communicate seamlessly with people with whom we are close, but “always missing each other a little bit.”
The solo cello work, America, written for John Popham, returns to the glitchy, machine-like repetition of Brontal Symmetry, mixing a panoply of extended techniques together in a schizophrenic meditation. White Wall, written for the Mivos Quartet, focuses on white noise techniques on bowed string instruments, similar to what was heard momentarily in Soft Aberration, as a foundation from which fragile harmonics and fleeting melodic fragments emerge. White noise is the starting point for the work, but for Wollschleger it also represents an aesthetic ending point, as a manifestation of “complete emptiness” or “the bleached out remains of something.” As Part 1 evolves, we hear more continuity to the fragile pitched lines and eventually they grow into a otherworldly dance, always refracted through a distorting prism. This too disintegrates as Part 2 draws to a close, ultimately returning to white noise, the ground for the entire work. Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World, written in 2015 for soprano Corrine Byrne and trumpeter Andy Kozar, is heard here in three parts, though it was originally in one continuous whole. Wollschleger explores the dynamics of duo writing and their invariable manifestation as some form of dialogue. In Part 1, the text is broken into fragments of single words and syllables, with the trumpet writing matching this deconstruction with disjointed cells of intervallic leaps, air sounds, wah-wah mute calls, and short scalar bursts. The occasional synchronicity of voice and trumpet timbres, what Wollscheger terms a “dirty unison,” creates a quasi “mutant offspring” hybrid instrument between the two. Part 2 explores more sustained pitches in the voice, with the trumpet playing flutter tongue ascending lines inside her sound. In Part 3, the vocalizing extends to the trumpet part for a whispering duet before the soprano closes this remarkable recording with two haunting descending minor sevenths, perhaps in a rhetorical question, or an oblique assertion, as we contemplate the present and the future: “this….world.”
- D. Lippel
All music composed by Scott Wollschleger, poublished by Project Schott New York (BMI).
The music on track 2 is published under the title Soft Aberration no. 2.
Tracks 3, 5, and 8 are published as a single continuous composition without movement breaks. Trackks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 were recorded between October 2014 - November 2016 at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY.
Tracks 6 and 7 were recorded May 12 at Sear Sound, New York, NY.
Recording engineer: Ryan Streber
Editing, Mixing, and Mastering: Ryan Streber, Hans Hsu, Anne Lanzilotti, and Scott Wollschleger
Produced by: Anne Lanzilotti, Scott Wollschleger
Executive Producer: Anne Lanzilotti
Album Design: Traci Larson
Painting: May I have this dense, by Lisa Abbot-Canfield, used with permission from the artist
Photography: Anne Lanzilotti, used with permission
This album was made possible with support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund
Scott Wollschleger (b.1980, Erie, PA) is a Brooklyn-based composer of solo, chamber, and dramatic music. His distinct musical language explores themes of art in dystopia, the conceptualization of silence, synesthesia, and creative repetition in form. Wollschleger’s music has been described as “evocative” and “kaleidoscopic” (The New York Times) and Alex Ross recently noted that Wollschleger “has become a formidable, individual presence” (The Rest Is Noise). Much of his music features a sense of “timeless lyricism”, a quality that influential avant-garde jazz pianist and blogger Ethan Iverson described as “the highlight of the disc” in his enthusiastic review of Wollschleger’s Brontal No. 3 on Red Light New Music’s debut album Barbary Coast, a 2014 New Focus Recordings release. Wollschleger’s concert works have been performed across the US and the world, including the International Music Institute at Darmstadt, the Festival of New American Music in Sacramento, the Bang on a Can Festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and the MATA Festival Interval Series. Following lightly in the footsteps of the New York School, Wollschleger received his Masters of Music in composition from Manhattan School of Music. Wollschleger’s music has been supported by grants and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Yvar Mikhasho Trust for New Music, BMI, New Music USA, and the Society for New Music. His music is published by Project Schott New York.
Longleash (Pala Garcia, violin; John Popham, cello; Renate Rohlfing, piano) is a group with a traditional instrumentation and a progressive identity. Inspired by music with unusual sonic beauty, an inventive streak, and a compelling cultural voice, Longleash extends a love of classical chamber musicianship to the interpretation of contemporary music, crafting performances that are both dynamic and thoughtfully refined. An “expert young trio” praised for its “subtle and meticulous musicianship” (Strad Magazine) and its "technical expertise and expressive innovation" (Feast of Music), Longleash has quickly earned a reputation in the US and abroad for innovative programming, artistic excellence, and new music advocacy. Longleash takes its name from Operation Long Leash, a CIA program designed to covertly support and disseminate the work of American avant-garde artists throughout Europe during the Cold War.
The trio balances a full performing schedule with commissioning and recording projects alongside their proprietary summer concert series and composition workshop, The Loretto Project (KY). Performance highlights include concerts at Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), the Ecstatic Music Festival (NY), the Green Music Center (CA), National Sawdust (NY), Scandinavia House (NY), Trondheim International Chamber Music Festival (Norway), and the University of Louisville. Longleash has conducted lectures and workshops at New York University, Manhattan School of Music, University of Nebraska, Ohio University, and Hunter College. The trio's work on behalf of American composers has been recognized and supported by Chamber Music America, the Alice K. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.http://longleashtrio.com
A fierce advocate of contemporary music, Anne Lanzilotti has distinguished herself premiering works by and collaborating with composers of her generation. An active composer-performer, Lanzilotti has been a guest artist with Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Échappé, and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Lanzilotti teaches at University of Northern Colorado School of Music. As a scholar, she specializes in the music of Andrew Norman: her dissertation is an analysis of Norman’s The Companion Guide to Rome, showing the influence of architecture and visual art on the work. As an extension of that research, she created Shaken Not Stuttered, a free online resource that demonstrates extended techniques for strings used in Norman’s orchestral and chamber works. Lanzilotti has also published articles in Music & Literature and Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. A native of Hawai‘i, she is a co-founder and Artistic Consultant for Kalikolehua — El Sistema Hawai‘i, a free orchestra program for underserved youth.
Brooklyn based pianist Karl Larson, praised for his “thoughtful” and “fervent” performances by The New York Times, is a sought after musician dedicated to the performance and cultivation of contemporary music. Larson has premiered works by notable composers including David Lang, Chris Cerrone, Scott Wollschleger, and David Rakowski. Larson has worked with many notable musicians and ensembles in his field and continues to seek out new collaborations and innovative projects. Recent collaborations include his work with Bearthoven, whose debut record Trios was released on Cantaloupe Music in May 2017, and Ashley Bathgate, with whom he released Restless, a record of Ken Thomson’s compositions, in October 2016. Larson is originally from McFarland, WI, and he holds degrees from Luther College and Bowling Green State University, where his primary teachers were John Strauss and Laura Melton.
A native of Pittsburgh, Andy Kozar is a New York City based trumpeter, improviser, composer and educator that has been called a “star soloist” (TimeOutNY) and has been said to be “agile as he navigated leaps and slurs with grace . . . he shifted between lyricism and aggression de ly” (International Trumpet Guild Journal). A strong advocate of contemporary music, he is a founding member of the contemporary music quartet loadbang which has been called “inventive” (New York Times), “cultivated” (The New Yorker), and “a formidable new-music force” (TimeOutNY). With loadbang, his playing has been said to be “polished and dynamic, with very impressive playing” (the Baltimore Sun), and that he “coaxed the ethereal and the gritty from [his] muted instrument .. . . and revealed a facility for shaping notes and color” (San Francisco Classical Voice). He is also a member of TILT Brass and has performed with new music ensembles including Argento Chamber Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, Ensemble Signal, Ensemble ACJW, Wet Ink, and Mark Gould’s Pink Baby Monster.
Hailed for her “beautiful vocal timbre,” soprano Corrine Byrne has quickly become a celebrated singer and interpreter of repertoire from the Medieval to the Baroque era, and music by today’s most daring contemporary composers. Recent roles include Anna I (Die Todsünden), Lady Madeline (The Fall of The House of Usher by Felix Jarrar), Doctor (The Scarlet Professor by Eric Sawyer), Cathy (The Last Five Years), Gretel (Hansel and Gretel) and Anima (Ordo Virtutum). Byrne has made appearances with The Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, REBEL Baroque Ensemble, One World Symphony, Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra, Amherst Symphony, Lorelei Ensemble, the Carnegie Hall Chamber Chorus, and is a co-founder of Ensemble Musica Humana. Byrne was a finalist for the 2012 Career Bridges Grant Awards, the 2013 Classical Singer Magazine Competition, the 2015 Handel Aria Competition, and a semi-finalist in the 2016 New York Oratorio Society Solo Competition. She holds a B.M. from UMass Amherst, an M.M. from Manhattan School of Music, and a D.M.A. from Stony Brook University.
Cellist John Popham is a chamber musician and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. His playing has been described as “brilliant” and “virtuosic” (Kronen Zeitung), “warm but variegated”, and “finely polished” (The New York Times).
Currently a member of Either/Or Ensemble and LONGLEASH, Mr. Popham has performed internationally with groups including Klangforum Wien, Talea Ensemble, and the Argento Chamber Ensemble. He has appeared as soloist with the Louisville Orchestra, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, the Red Light Ensemble, and the Kunstuniversität Graz Chorus.
Recent festival appearances include Brücken (Austria), Open Musik (Austria), IMPULS (Austria), the Vermont Mozart Festival, USINESONORE (Switzerland), Bay Chamber (Maine), the Contemporary Classical Music Festival (Peru), Lucerne Festival, and Klangspuren (Austria).
Dedicated to new music performance, Mr. Popham has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Nils Vigeland, and Reiko Füting. The recipient of a Fulbright research grant, Mr. Popham spent the 2013/2014 academic year in Austria, where he studied the performance practice of Klangforum Wien and worked with leading figures in contemporary Austrian music: Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, Klaus Lang, and Pierluigi Billone.
Mr. Popham is currently cello faculty of the Extension Division of Rutgers University. He received his BM and MM from the Manhattan School of Music where he was a student of David Geber and David Soyer and was awarded the Manhattan School of Music Full Scholarship. He has recorded for Tzadik, Carrier, New Focus, Albany, and Arte Nova records.http://www.johnpatrickpopham.com
The Mivos Quartet, “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” (The Chicago Reader), is devoted to performing the works of contemporary composers, presenting new music to diverse audiences. Since the quartet's beginnings in 2008 they have performed works by emerging and established international composers who represent varied aesthetics of contemporary composition. Mivos is invested in commissioning and premiering new music for string quartet, particularly in a context of close collaboration with composers over extended time-periods. Recent collaborations include works with Mark Barden (Wien Modern Commission, Dan Blake (Jerome Commission), Richard Carrick (Fromm Commission), Patrick Higgins (ZS), Sam Pluta (Lucerne Festival Commission), Kate Soper, Saul Williams, Scott Wollschleger and Eric Wubbels (CMA commission). Mivos is committed to working with guest artists, exploring multi-media projects involving live video and electronics, creating original compositions and arrangements for the quartet, and performing improvised music. The quartet has appeared on concert series including Wien Modern (Austria), Transart (Italy), Music at the Phillips (Washington, DC), Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), HellHOT! New Music Festival (Hong Kong), Festival International Chihuahua (México), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), Asphalt Festival (Germany), and Aldeburgh Music (UK).http://www.mivosquartet.com
I am fascinated and disturbed by cognitive dissonance: the apparent disparity between appearance and reality. Today, we are all too often glued to some form of screen, telling us that things are different from what our eyes are telling us — that everything is okay, when it quite clearly isn’t — the Žižekian “I know very well, but…” “Relations of domination function through their denial,” Žižek writes, in his 2008 book In Defence of Lost Causes. “We are not only obliged to obey our masters, we are also obliged to act as if we were free and equal.” What I like about Wollschleger’s “Brontal Symphony” is that, at several points in its fourteen and a half minutes, the piece pulls the screen back so that the listener must face reality, face our own cognitive dissonance in all its horrible hilarity. -- 10.20.2017
I first heard of the Brooklyn-based composer Scott Wollschleger thirteen years ago, when he was a student at the Manhattan School of Music. Back then he was writing ambitiously sprawling pieces, as students often do. He has since whittled down his aesthetic to something distinctive and magnetic, as his New Focus album “Soft Aberration” attests. On the atlas of new music, Wollschleger lands somewhere in the borderland between Minimalia and Feldmanistan: obsessive repetitions of stripped-down materials bring to mind minimalism, while spells of hushed, cryptic beauty recall the great American modernist Morton Feldman. Yet Wollschleger has found a territory very much his own. Particularly striking is his way of circling around a simple-seeming musical figure until it becomes something at once familiar and strange. He says in a program note that he embraces “the idea that we can create art that is very basic and human by discovering the sensation of an object.” The piano trio titled “Brontal Symmetry,” played by Longleash, exemplifies his aesthetic. It emerged from a collection of fragments left over from other projects. These circulate in an unpredictable, fitful sequence, as if a mechanism were disobeying its algorithm and developing a mind of its own. Cartoonish mischief comes into play: at 7:30, E-flat dominant-seventh chords crash in out of nowhere, like a bit of Romantic piano bombast gone astray. Somehow, these “discarded scraps,” as the composer calls them, gather into a potent narrative. It’s like a junk-metal mobile that achieves free-floating grace. — Alex Ross, 10.25.2017, The New Yorker
“Soft Abarration” [sic] is the newest album released by “New Focus Records” on October 20. The compositions written by American contemporary classical music and academic avant-garde composer Scott Wollschleger [sic]. Scott Wollshleger is an American composer. He had bacema [sic] famous because of his original and extraordinary composing style, expressive and unusual sound, free and creative musical experiments. Scott’s Wollshleger’s composing style is based on experimental and unusual musical decisions – free form, modern structure, various types of harmonic chords, melodies and rhythms are masterfully combined together with extended playing techniques, wide range of musical expressions and other music elements. His music also is a synthesis between various modernism and academic avant-garde styles synthesis. Extravagant and stunning musical decisions, creative and colorful experiments, dramatic melodies, innovative instrumentation are the main elements of his composing style. The main part of his compositions are written for chamber ensembles, synphony [sic] orchestras or solo instruments. He can essentially connect together different music styles – experimental music, various jazz styles, world music elements are twisted together with academic avant-garde. The compositions of this album were recorded by various musicians and ensembles which are very famous in academic music scene – soprano Corrine Byrne, trumpeter Andy Kozar, violist Anne Lanzilotti, cellist John Popham, pianist Karl Larson, “Mivos Quartet” and “Longleash” trio. All musicians play these compositions very expressive and create unusual. [sic] creative, adventurous and versatile sound.
Album compositions are based on various contemporary music styles and their elements synthesis [sic]. The compositions for various chamber ensembles or solo players are recorded here – “Brontal Symmetry”, “Soft Aberration”, “Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World”, “America” and “String Quartet No.2 “White Wall”. The compositions have colorful and modern musical language – extraordinary and free form, polyphonic structure, variety of unusual timbres, essential combination of tonal and atonal music, serialism and various experimental composing techniques are the main elements of these compositions. Late expressionism, post-romantism and modernism styles are synthesized with academic avant-garde and experimental music. Various stunning and extravagant instrumentation decisions and dynamic harmony are heard very much in this album compositions [sic]. Dramatic strings solos, arepeggio, glissando, pizzicato, puantilism [sic] elements and other modern playing techniques are combined with innovative ways of playing. This wide range of extended playing techniques helps the composer to extract new and interesting sounds, get out from the traditional musical decisions and comfort zone of the instruments. Scott Wollschleger does all that very stunning and remarkable – with different musical expressions and playing techniques he create different – original, extravagant and stunning sound [sic]. The compositions are interesting not just because of form, structure or instrumentation. It also has many different moods and characters. Dramatic expression combines with tragical or depressive lyricism, joyful and playful episodes – with sad and solemn pieces. It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen next – this music is full of sudden and spontaneous stylistic turns, musical languages changes and colorful instrumentation decisions. Sharp, agressive [sic] and provocative harmony is based on various unusual chords, which bring more dramatical [sic] and interesting sound to this album compositions. The rhythmic is very variable and dynamic – it gently fit [sic] together with melodic and harmonix [sic] elements and form a solid basement and background. All compositions of this album were played not just very precisely and professionally, but also expressive, energetic, emotional and original. The musicians revealed the main elements of Scott Wollshleger’s composing style and combined original, extraordinary and unique playing style and manner by each musician. Remarkable and innovative sound of this album is masterfulyl [sic] created with numerous of different playing techniques and other music elements. — Avant Scena, 10.25.2017
New York based composer Scott Wollschleger describes his work, Soft Aberration, in the following manner: “Soft Aberration is a piece about imitation, but rather than sharing identical musical material, I imagined each instrument as a damaged reflective surface, which projects a kind of ‘broken echo’ between the two instruments. In some sense, the piano wants to ‘see itself’ in the viola’s music, and the viola wants the same from the piano. The two struggle with this throughout the piece, and at various times they find a way to ‘see’ each other.”
Included on the composer’s debut portrait recording, which bears the same title as the piece (released October 20, 2017 by New Focus Recordings), this captivating note seems compatible with the album as a complete unit, just as the title lays across the varying works and ties them together under the notion of objects and forms endeavoring to see their reflections within an imperfect mirror. In many ways, this is an album that feels like a single, expansive work, and yet it is a work in which each part also comes across as a whole, like exploring the reflection of the surrounding room in the complex surface of a cut and polished gemstone; each surface reveals a new perspective that cannot be experienced within the room itself, but only through its reflection.
The opening track, entitled Brontal Symmetry, was commissioned by New York based piano trio Longleash, made up of pianist Renate Rohlfing, violinist Pala Garcia, and cellist John Popham. The piece embodies an aspect of Wollschleger’s uniquely individual idiom that the composer describes as “creative repetition in form,” with subtle, driving undulations broken regularly by cascading bursts of activity that descend effervescently before settling again into a churning swamp of low tones from the piano, metallic sighs from the cello, and delicate ricochets from the violin.
Indeed, many of the works on the album vacillate between expansive nebulas probing the composer’s interest in “conceptualizing silence” and lucid periods of mechanistic, rhythmic repetition that invoke a suggestion of self awareness, as though wandering particles of distinct and inherent quality have suddenly coalesced into some new, aggregate form; an organism that has spontaneously emerged from swirling and chaotic silence and realized it can walk or swim or fly through the air, but does so only to explore the revelation of locomotion, without yet having grasped the power it wields to direct its course through the ether. In describing Brontal Symmetry, Anne Lanzilotti may be indirectly referring to this apparent invocation when she suggests the piece is founded upon the “idea that we can create art that is very basic and human by discovering the sensation of an object.”
The album’s title track, Soft Abberation, commissioned and performed by pianist Karl Larson and violist Anne Lanzilotti, hovers more consistently over that plane of formlessness on the verge of taking flight while (as described above) each instrument struggles to see itself in the other.
Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World is a rather fascinating piece for trumpet and voice, commissioned and performed by soprano Corrine Byrne and trumpeter Andy Kozar. Divided into three parts and spread across the remainder of the album, the work showcases Wollschleger’s knack for weaving luscious tapestries out of overlapping timbres within simple and delicate cells of material. The piece exhibits this process on a number of layers, making interchangeable the qualities of language and abstract sound, establishing new, conceptual instruments by combining these contrasting qualities in various ways (occasionally converging in what the composer describes as “dirty unisons”) and through the frequent interjection of space and silence.
As with the other works on the album, this piece represents in many ways both a part and the whole, a sort of musical synecdoche crafted not in concept but by the sounds themselves. This is explained poetically by the epigrammatic, eponymous text, which summarizes Wollschleger’s views on the purpose of art as the “rendering [of] something into existence that is inconceivable before it happens.”
America for solo cello, commissioned and performed by Longleash’s John Popham is a textural work that “reflects upon the desolation of the country.” Anne Lanzilotti compares the piece to another work by conceptual artist Glenn Ligon, called Double America 2, which she encountered at The Broad in Los Angeles. Like Ligon’s sculpture, a neon sign of the word AMERICA with its inversion underneath it, the piece suggests the limitless complexity of meaning and depth that is often overlooked in the idealization of a whole. In Ligon’s piece, the inverted AMERICA flickers unsettlingly, implying a less wholesome foundation than the clean, outstanding, right-side-up AMERICA suggests. Wollschleger’s composition draws out of the solo cello a symphony of sounds, textures and spectral sonorities, similarly alternating between warm solidity and fragile, hostile instability, impossible to summarize in a single sound or gesture.
Finally, White Wall, a two part string quartet commissioned and performed spectacularly by the Mivos Quartet, emerges from whispers and breathy murmurs at first conjuring spirits of Lachenmann and Feldman, before Wollschleger’s distinctive, pulmonary rhythms erect structures around them, echoing the ebb and flow of the preceding works but in an altogether unique space; another beam broken apart by Wollschelger’s prism, the emergence of form out of the white noise to which the title alludes.
In Wollschelger’s work it seems the listener is fully integrated into the creative process. There is no illusion, no curtain to pull aside or opaque, structural tropes to decode that are propped up by dense and overly articulated program notes. Nonetheless, the potential for ever increasing meaning feels limitless. Wollschelger’s stark honesty is approachable but deceptively simple and possessed of many, immeasurable (and some undetectable) dimensions. Rather than falling from above and condescending from some pedestal of intellectual vanity, these magical works rise holistically out of a more primal space and carry the listener with them as their petals unfurl and their flowers bloom over the dark, reflective pool of Wollschleger’s deeply profound imagination. — Christian Kriegeskotte, 10.27.2017, I Care if You Listen
The music of American composer Scott Wollschleger is undergirded by philosophical ideas, including those of the fearsome French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze, in fact, provided the basis for Wollschleger's coined genre designation Brontal, which denotes, in the composer's words, "the idea that we can create art that is very basic and human by discovering the sensation of an object." Indeed, Wollschleger's music is accessible and compelling without reference to the philosophical substructure. The composer seems to be trying to present the sounds of instruments (conventional, not electronic) and voices in their most basic possible ways. Sample the first movement of Bring Something Incomprehensible into the World, based on and in part setting words of Deleuze. It's not clear why this work is broken up into three separated sections, especially inasmuch as they are indicated as to be played without a break in published form. But the opening movement, for voice and trumpet overlapping, is fascinating; there is little really extended technique for either singer or trumpeter, but the timbres are unique. The pieces are played by top-notch New York contemporary musicians who can realize Wollschleger's ideas. Wollschleger has described himself as "following lightly in the footsteps of the New York School," and for those curious about the contemporary ramifications of that group of composers, this is enthusiastically recommended. — James Manheim, AllMusic, 11.2017
Composer Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980) seems most interested in creating musical effects through a deliberately-chosen economy of means. He writes largely for chamber ensembles or soloist performers, and in fact Soft Aberration, the first album dedicated to his work alone, contains compositions for solo, duo, trio and quartet.
A couple of the titles of these works—Soft Aberration, Brontal Symmetry—are likely to call up associations with New York School composers, especially Morton Feldman. Wollschleger has acknowledged the New York School and Feldman as influences and exemplary figures; like Feldman, Wollschleger favors constructing pieces out of repeating fragments of pitches, timbres, or rhythmic figures. His method for building a full-scale work out of these basic elements generally consists of creating chains of semi-independent events or moments defined by a relatively simple pattern of pitch, color, or rhythmic relationships. One moment doesn’t necessarily implicate the next; Wollschleger’s stated aim in making continuous works from discontinuous, repeating events is to encourage the listener to reflect on the sounds’ different facets–as if they had been presented from different angles.
The long piece that opens the album, 2015’s Brontal Symmetry, was commissioned by the unorthodox piano trio Longleash, who perform it here; the work is an astutely-chosen opener, as it epitomizes some of the key aspects of Wollschleger’s aesthetic. The piece lays out its fundamental musical material from the start, as it begins with a staccato, deliberately square-rhythmed three-note motif on the piano. The motif is picked up on the strings, which reproduce its phrase profile more than its exact melody; the playing then dissolves into a simulacrum of chaos—of acoustic white noise carried on the frenzied bowing of the strings. This contrast of moods sets a larger, symmetrical pattern in which the piece alternates passages defined by the simple motif with chaotic or quiet passages.
The white noise of the strings’ unpitched moments in Brontal Symmetry is developed further in —and alluded to in the title of–White Wall (2013) for string quartet. Played with the requisite subtlety by the Mivos Quartet, White Wall’s softly bowed, muted strings and whistling harmonics—broken on occasion by plucked or bowed stabs–largely exist in an audio environment notable for its low dynamics and dispersed texture. White Wall is a piece of extraordinary sonic delicacy that serves as the understated focus of the album.
The album’s other compositions—the title track, for piano and viola; America, for solo cello; and Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World, for the unusual duo of soprano and trumpet—give more evidence of a composer who can extract the expressive maximum from minimal musical means.
— Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News, 11.13.2017
Scott Wollschleger - Soft Aberration This debut album of angular chamber music showcases a composer so steeped in the European avant garde that neither Schoenberg, Berio or Boulez would have trouble connecting to what he’s doing here. But it’s rare that you hear such command of structure and orchestration in any idiom. Some of that may be a result of the fact that each piece was commissioned by its performer(s) and conceived with their specific talents in kind. The first piece, Brontal Symmetry, has wit, melody, and plenty of spice, doled out in digestible bits. Created from scraps unused in earlier works, it’s an ideal introduction to Wollschleger’s talents. The recording by Longleash, a trio comprised of Pala Garcia (violin), John Popham (cello), Renate Rohlfing (piano), sets a very high bar with their commitment and surprisingly light touch.
Popham is also heard in the threnodic America for solo cello, which he dispatches as though the ink were drying on the score. But with the great pianist Karl Larson on board with violinist Anne Lanzilotti in the title piece, and the Mivos Quartet closing the album with the spectral White Wall, there was never going to be any let up in quality. Wollschleger’s astonishing grasp is further demonstrated by perhaps the most challenging piece here, Bring Something Incomprehensible Into The World, a three movement work for soprano (Corinne Byrne) and trumpet (Andy Kozar). With both musicians pursuing extended techniques with style and even levity, it more than lives up to its title, and wonderfully so. Far from an aberration, this album is the sound of someone firmly planting their flag at a thrilling elevation. More, please. P.S. Keep an eye on upcoming performances of Wollschleger's music, including Larson in the complete piano music on November 20th. — Jeremy Shatan, An Earful, 10.28.2017
The cover and the booklet that come with this CD contain art that is a remarkably fitting metaphor for the music contained herein. The almost monochromatic images with sometimes barely visible lines defining a space which requires serious concentration to discern effectively at times is very much like the music we hear on the disc.
Scott Wollschleger (1980- ) is an American composer who studied with Nils Vigeland at the Manhattan School of Music. His work has been compared to that of Morton Feldman and, more generally, to the other members of the so-called New York School. Vigeland has been active throughout his career performing and recording definitive versions of some of the best of Morton Feldman, John Cage, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff. It would appear that these voices and stylistic leanings are very much favored at the Manhattan School of Music. A previous disc reviewed here with music by head of the composition department Reiko Futing, evokes a similar sound world.
This disc of chamber music contains five works on eight tracks ranging from 1’43” to 14’27” and all require almost as much concentration on the part of the listener as the extended techniques and performance requirements demand of the performers. The dynamic range is from (generous) silences to forte.
The first track is by the seriously entertaining and odd piano trio called Longleash. They demonstrate their expertise and concentration as well as their love for this musical genre in their performance of Brontal Symmetry (2015). Unlike the other pieces here, Brontal Symmetry makes use of ostinati and there is a consistent sound field punctuated with silences. It is an unusual but ultimately engaging piece. Longleash consists of Pala Garcia, violin; John Popham, cello; and Renate Rohlfing, piano.
It is followed by the titular and sparse Soft Aberration (2013) for viola and piano played by Anne Lanzilotti, viola and Karl Larson, piano. Though approximately the same length as the opening work the silences nearly suspend the perception of time and create a sense of sounds suspended in space in a sort of sculptural way.
Bring Something Incomprehensible into this World (2015) is for trumpet and soprano. The three parts of this work are spread across the disc (tracks 3, 5, and 8) creating an even more spare sense. It is interesting to play the three movements manually without the interruption of the intended track sequence to get a sense of the piece. Again we have silences predominating with extended techniques demanded of the performers. Andy Kozar plays trumpet and the soprano is Corrine Byrne. The first movement at 6’39” is the longest followed by the second at 3’25” and the last at 1’43”.
America (2013) is a solo cello piece here played by John Popham (of Longleash). It is a pointillistic mix of silence and extended instrumental techniques which makes reference to an art work by Glenn Ligon.
White Wall (2013) is for string quartet and is played by the Mivos Quartet consisting of Olivia De Prato, violin; Josh Modney, violin; Victor Lowrie, viola; and Mariel Roberts, cello. This is an amalgam of unfolding processes which seem to be indiosyncratic to the composer. It is very intimate music in that sense. The piece is in two substantial movements.
The album concludes with the brief last part of Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World. Suffice it to say that there are attempts here to tie in philosophical as well as visual metaphors. Wollschleger is apparently enamored of the writings of Deleuze, Nietzsche, and Brecht. Her lies another tie in to the New York School with their love of visual metaphors and philosophy. This is not an easy listen but it is a serious effort deserving of some attention. The listener can decide whether the artists have indeed brought something comprehensible into this world…or not. — Allan Cronin, New Music Buff, 11.15.2017
Soft Aberration features five provocative chamber settings by Brooklyn-based Scott Wollschleger (b.1980), whose oft-pointillistic pieces boldly challenge accepted notions of musical form. Like many a New Focus Recordings release, multiple interpreters have been gathered to present the composer's work, with both parties mutually benefiting. If the music seems like an especially good fit in this case, there's a good explanation for it: each composition was commissioned by the performer in question and thus written expressly with that performer in mind.
Wollschleger's material is extremely well-served by the personnel involved, all of them forward-thinking advocates of contemporary music who bring impressive credentials to the project. Longleash, for example, distinguished itself recently with its own full-length, Passage, and the trio's cellist, John Popham, not only appears in Longleash's performance of Brontal Symmetry but also the solo cello work America. Others also bring group affiliations to Wollschleger's recording, among them loadbang member Andy Kozar, whose trumpet pairs with soprano Corrine Byrne on Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World, while violist Anne Lanzilotti has performed as a guest artist with Alarm Will Sound and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). In addition, pianist Karl Larson recently collaborated with Bearthoven, whose Trios was released on Cantaloupe earlier this year, and Ashley Bathgate, with whom he released Restless, a collection of Ken Thomson's music, in late 2016
Wollschleger's penchant for the micro-gesture is exemplified by Longleash's rendering of Brontal Symmetry, which violinist Pala Garcia, pianist Renate Rohlfing John, and cellist Popham execute with their customary precision. If the piece feels like an assemblage of bits and pieces, that's the effect Wollschleger was after: built from “discarded scraps” from other pieces, Brontal Symmetry sees the performers jump-cutting from one part to another and fluctuating between pensive, comical, mechanical, and macabre sections. Even so, a through-line asserts itself, not only here but in Popham's solo performance of America, that ensures musicality overrides any impression of randomness.
Performed by Larson and Lanzilotti, the ponderous title piece naturally invokes Morton Feldman in its handling of space and time, with pregnant pauses in abundance and minimal piano and viola phrases echoing one another in ghostly manner. In an inspired move, the three parts of Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World are dispersed throughout the recording, with trumpeter Kozar and soprano Byrne demonstrating an arresting symbiosis in their melding of voice and trumpet timbres. In the first part, Byrne's voicing of the text, presented as single words and syllables, is matched by a similar deconstruction by Kozar's muted horn, his dynamic playing characterized by wah-wah gestures and short bursts.
Still, perhaps the most arresting of the album's five compositions is White Wall, whose two parts are performed hauntingly by the Mivos String Quartet (violinists Olivia de Prato and Josh Modney, violist Victor Lowrie, and cellist Mariel Roberts). Consistent with the work's title, white noise techniques are applied to bowed strings as a ground from which wispy harmonics and insectile melodic figures emerge. The composition not only serves as a fascinating sound exercise in itself but as a representative exemplar of Wollschleger's pointillistic style, with the composer intrepidly testing the boundaries of conventional musical form with an unusual array of textural effects. — Ron Schepper, textura, November 2017
This gritty portrait album of the Brooklyn composer Scott Wollschleger is packed with dissonance, angularity, and wit. A slew of excellent New York ensembles tackle his music, all of which operates from organizing principles laid out with impressive clarity and intellect. The piano trio Longleash—whose own album is discussed elsewhere in this column—bring mordant humor and head-snapping execution to the opening piece “Brontal Symmetry,” using “discarded scraps” of material from other pieces, compiled and reconfigured in a process that destroys their original contexts. The piece is certainly jarring, but as the trio’s violinist Pala Garcia observes in the liner notes, “it only feels like cartoon violence.” The title piece, performed by pianist Karl Larson and violist Anne Lanzilotti, toys with the notion of memory; the piano lays out the piece in the opening moments in a solo statement, and when the viola joins and as the Feldman-esque shapes continue to unfold, they further decay and distort, a mirroring effect that transmutes the original lines.
The three parts of “Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World,” a quotation from Gilles Deleuze that the composer embraces as an ethos for creating things that have never existed before, is spread out among other works on the rest of the album. The title is the text sung by soprano Corrine Byrne, but she breaks apart and extends every syllable to abstract shapes and phonemes that interact deftly with the trumpet smears, snorts, and whinnies blown by loudbang’s Andy Kozar. Over the course of the entire work, the trumpet and voice seem to take on one another’s qualities. Longleash cellist John Popham brings bristling clarity to “America,” a diverse, shape-shifting work that the composer built in tiny fragments in collaboration with the cellist. Fragmentation and white noise reside at the core of his “White Wall,” masterfully brought to life here by Mivos Quartet, with passages that move from barely audible scrapes to jagged collisions of fragile double stops, scratch tones, and upper register squalls.
Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily: Best of Contemporary Classical, 11.2017
Composer Scott Wollschleger’s new album, Soft Aberration, is, on its surface, about as fresh and singular a new-music album as I’ve heard this year: on the one hand, Wollschleger draws on a spate of extended techniques and gestures that all sound thoroughly of the present. At the same time, there’s something elemental and profound at work, too, in this collection of five chamber pieces, and that intangible quality lends these pieces (and this disc) its expressive weight.
In the opening track, Brontal Symmetry, a piano trio written for the ensemble Longleash, thudding, mechanistic rhythmic patterns alternate with violent episodes and moments of pure stasis. Most of the piece’s gestures and textures – the string writing is frequently sul ponticello – are menacing, though Longleash ably draws out the music’s moments of nervous humor and peace, too.
The album’s title track, on the other hand, taps a very different vein. Meditative and spare, Soft Aberration, a viola-piano duet, evokes the sound worlds of Toru Takemitsu and Morton Feldman more than anything else: fragments of melodies appear and hover before dissolving into the ether.
The three parts of Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World, a striking duet for voice and solo trumpet, frame the remaining pieces on the disc. A study of timbral contrasts that employs various extended trumpet techniques, Bring Something alludes (perhaps inadvertently) to a number of reference points, from Berio’s Sequenzas to Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop. But it’s a remarkably engaging and original-sounding piece, all the same, one that leaves an abiding impression.
Inserted between the parts of Bring Something come a pair of string scores. The first, America, is a rather manic essay for solo cello that investigates some of that instrument’s extended capabilities, as well as gestures (repetition, silence) heard in earlier works on the album. After America comes White Wall, a string quartet (played by the Mivos Quartet) that utilizes white noise techniques to craft a harmonic framework of breathtaking fragility.
All of the performances are given by the players for whom the respective pieces were composed and may well be considered definitive. There’s much to admire here, technically, from John Popham’s flickering intensity in America to the subtle shades of light and shadow Mivos teases out of White Wall to the sumptuous warmth pianist Karl Larson and violist Anne Lanzilotti bring to Soft Aberration.
But it’s those touchingly expressive moments that leave the biggest impact – in Brontal Symmetry and Bring Something, especially. Those elevate this album and cement Wollschleger’s place as one of the Millennial generation’s most striking voices.
— Jonathan Blumhofer, Arts Fuse, 12.5.2017
Scott Wollschleger’s compositions are written in an amalgam of different styles, onto which he puts a personal stamp, creating pieces that are full of savory surprises. Wollschleger’s debut portrait CD on New Focus, Soft Aberration, contains five pieces that show his eclecticism to best advantage.
It certainly helps that the performers he has enlisted are some of the most talented youngish players on New York’s contemporary classical scene. The piano trio Longleash is a powerhouse. They present Wollschleger’s ostinato-laden Brontal Symmetry with kinetic verve and an eye towards detail. The work’s more active passages are eruptive. Just as you think that the groove is locked in, a beautifully meditative section interrupts the inexorable gallop with haloing harmonics and the introduction of less dissonant harmonies. Eventually, the opening material returns, now transformed to contain less symmetry. Slowly, the gears grind to a halt.
Longleash’s cellist, John Popham, presents the multiple simultaneous strands of America both distinctly and as interlocking motoric rhythms. The piece is a cousin to Brontal Symmetry, and its range of activity makes it an impressive showcase. Soft Aberration demonstrates a bit of a Morton Feldman influence, if one that is compressed into a fourteen minute long piece. Still, the use of soft, slow, off-kilter repetitions and the way in which wayward viola melodies are harmonized by piquant piano verticals is striking. Violist Anne Lanzilotti and pianist Karl Larson present a focused, riveting performance.
On three separate tracks distributed throughout the CD, soprano Corrine Byrne and trumpeter Andrew Kozar (who also plays in loadbang) perform sections of Bring Something Incomprehensible Into this World (Parts 1-3). Chirruping high notes from Byrne are matched by muted interjections from Kozar; both get an ample dose of microtonal inflections and glissandos to impart. These duets demonstrate a playful side to Wollschleger’s work that is appealing.
Mivos Quartet performs “White Wall,” a two-movement string quartet in which short motives played in harmonics, rustling string noise, whistling glissandos and, for good measure, more harmonics of the plucked variety, create a fragilely intense atmosphere. The second movement moves us into one of Wollschleger’s trademark off-kilter grooves, interrupted with multi-stop glissandos. It then goes sideways into a sostenuto passage for solo cello. A gradual build-up back to tempo is established, this time with the lower register leading the foray. The presence of the upper strings is fully reestablished and then the cello too climbs upward. A return to the effects-laden character of the beginning of the quartet resumes. Vertical harmonies tantalize with pitch centers, but destabilize things just as quickly, making the overall trajectory seem to ooze further and further away from conclusion: a moving target. Another soft cello interlude appears, this time made up of string noise and harmonics. Whispered text and a gale of loud pizzicatos abruptly thrust the piece into a coda that then dissolves into hushed spookiness.
— Christian Carey, christiancarey.com/Sequenza21, 1.6.2018
The music of Scott Wollschleger can be as difficult, or easy, as the listener wants it to be. As evidenced by Soft Aberration (New Focus Recordings), the first collection of his work, the composer isn’t afraid of making listenable music; it often moves quite slowly, but more often than not it moves quite beautifully. At the same time, the rhythms and shifting structures he employs will trigger the ear of the focused head-nodder.
Though the CD contains works for varied instrumentation, Wollschleger shows a particular affinity for the piano. And over two concerts at Spectrum’s new location in Brooklyn, pianist Karl Larson is presenting “The Complete Piano Works of Scott Wollschleger” (the first installment last November, the second on February 2). Then on February 28, Larson and his bandmates in the trio Bearthoven present the local premiere of Wollschleger’s American Dream.
National Sawdust Log spoke recently with the composer about the piano, the importance of words, and the decaying of America.
NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Scott. I have to ask something right off. It’s not a question I routinely ask in interviews, but I think you’ll understand why I am in this case. The question is: how old are you?
OK, so at age 37, you’re presenting your complete piano works at Spectrum. Isn’t that a bit… premature? Or are you done writing for the piano already?
Ha, yes, I hope it is premature, and I do imagine I’ll write again for the piano. I tend to write piano music even when I’m not planning to, so an accidental (or hopefully planned) piece will most likely happen, but there are no plans at this time. Karl Larson actually approached me with the idea to do the “complete” works. At first I was a little shy to bill the concert as such. But then I figured, what the hell, I could die any day—why not? I think Karl also saw how all the works programmed together could make for a compelling concert experience. Taken together, the works do paint a picture. Also we both have grand plans to someday release an album of my solo piano works, and we figured programming all of the works together would be a great way to get started.
That’s quite a commitment to your work! How long have you known Karl? What is your working relationship like?
Karl is an amazing collaborator and a dear friend. He’s a composer’s dream to work with. Karl and I have been working together for about six years. Our working relationship is extremely organic. We’ll hang out about once a month or so over beers at the Ice House in Red Hook (where Karl lives), and once we get talking, there always seems to be an endless amount of cool projects we start planning together. Besides hanging out and making awesome music together, we’ve also taught together at some colleges outside the city.
Do you have Larson in mind when you write for the piano?
It’s strange, when writing non-solo piano music I always have to imagine a person or an ensemble playing the piece. When I can see the piece being performed in my mind, I’m able to write it. But it’s the opposite when writing for just the piano. Most of my solo piano works were written for myself, with no intention of being concert pieces. I’m actually always surprised how good they can sound when a real pianist plays them. A lot of them also were written on accident; they just sort of popped out. I’ve dedicated a number of these works to Karl but was not thinking of him in particular when writing.
That said, I definitely had Karl in mind for a number of other recent works, like when I composed my piano concerto, Meditation on Dust, for him in 2015 and more recently when I composed American Dream for his trio Bearthoven. I love Karl’s tone, his patient timing (which is super important in my music), and the way he voices my clustery harmony. Karl totally gets the floating, glowing space I’m trying to build with my music. Definitely when making piano chords, I often think, “Karl would make this chord sound so good”.
Bearthoven is a bit unusual in that it has the instrumentation of a jazz piano trio (piano, bass, drums) rather than a classical piano trio (piano, violin, cello). They’ll give the New York City premiere of American Dream at Roulette on Feb. 28. What can you tell us about writing that piece and what the title means to you?
Collaborating with Bearthoven has been an incredible experience. Despite the lean instrumentation, American Dream is an epic piece. The piece is over 30 minutes long, and it definitely pushed my musical and conceptual boundaries. I think it also pushed the group’s already-phenomenal musicality to the limit, and the result is really electrifying. American Dream is musically structured like a dream – the trio jumps between a variety of contrasting “musical scenes.” The scenes are musically connected by a series of simple thematic threads that are perpetually re-orchestrated and re-contextualized into contrasting grooves. The result is a kind of musical channel surfing.
The music traverses an emotionally complex terrain, and it channels some deep feelings of despair, sadness, feelings about what the fuck it means to be living in America right now—but it also channels a sense of hope and serenity. There are many moments of tenderness, dark humor, and a kind of gregarious fragility. It was composed between 2016 and 2017, and while writing it I thought it was maybe a reaction piece about contemporary politics. But now that it has been written, I think it is really about the disintegration of my sense of the world. I think a lot of us felt this disintegration this past year, and we’ve probably been feeling it for some time. Much of my recent music has been about the end of the world, and in many works I’m trying to arrive at a kind of music and a kind of musical thinking that comes after it’s all over.
American Dream is very much about this place at the end. But what was surprising, and perhaps what saves the piece, is that in dwelling in this place where it all feels over, it’s also the same place where I was able to arrive at a profound sense of innocence, an innocence to being alive and creating in the moment. At the end of things, we don’t have to have any baggage anymore—the horizon is truly open. I hope others also get these things from the piece too.
Perhaps also ahead of your age, a CD of your work for different instrumentation was released last year on New Focus. The whole disc is exceptional, but let’s start by addressing the cello solo, America. Anything you want to add about this patriotic stripe in your work?
America, much like American Dream, is about my complicated feeling about the country and its culture. I’ve never had a strong sense of myself, of who I am, and I think this is because I’ve always felt alienated by being an American. I’ve always felt an outsider looking in on American culture. There’s a great Kierkegaard parable about a horse farm where all the horses there have been rejected by their owners because they no longer could do, or never could do, normal horse stuff. The story is told from the perspective of a horse who looks in on this farm from a perch on a hill, outside the farm, and he contemplates how he cannot ever be a part of the rejected horse farm because he is an outsider among those who are already outsiders. I feel like this horse. Much of the piece America was written with the same feeling I have when driving through the negative spaces of the country, the feeling I have when driving through strip-mall parking lots and long stretches on highway roads.
The piece is about finding beauty in America’s banal and bland commercial aesthetic. I’m the guy who wants to find beauty in common parking lots and gas stations. On a musical level, I think you can hear in America a kind of banal material that is constantly being reshuffled. There’s a kind of resistance to settling on a fixed “theme.” I feel this resistance is akin to the resistance I feel towards us taking on a fixed personal identity. It’s something that used to bother me, that I could not settle on an identity or a “self,” but now I see it as liberating. I guess the piece is about this sense of freedom we can embody and live within when we move our thinking outside of fixed categories and fixed identities.
The disc opens with Brontal Symmetry, a piece for the traditional classical piano trio. In the liner notes to Soft Aberration, violist Anne Lanzilotti, who also produced and plays on the album, defines your invented term brontal as “the idea that we can create something very basic and human by discovering the sensation of an object. In doing this, we are making something unfamiliar very immediate. This process of discovery can be very focused and also, at times, very funny.” Is all of your work brontal?
Yes, I think everything I write could be called brontal. The good thing is it’s an attitude anyone can adopt and use.
Landscapes seem an important part of discovery to you. Elsewhere, you’ve talked about the brontal as embracing the contradictions of everyday life. You’ve given the example of wanting to be able to walk through a Walmart store and acknowledge your feelings of despair in the face of corporate commercialism, while experiencing the sensation of all the bright colors of packages on the shelves. How does a sense of place inhabit or influence your composing?
We’re always in a place—like, New York City is the place I’m in. A lot of my work is based on the idea of walking around the city, and we’re in a place that allows a lot of walking around. I think place gets in a lot of my work even if I don’t think about it. It’s possible to go through a place without thinking about it. I want the listener to experience something in a very simple way.
There’s also a gorgeous string quartet on the album, White Wall, played by Mivos. Do you find it more of a challenge to approach traditional instrumentations or more unusual ones, such as the trumpet-and-voice or piano-and-viola duos we also hear on the disc?
At this point I feel I treat all instruments in such an idiosyncratic way that it does not matter how traditional the ensemble is.
The piano/viola duo gave the album its name. Your titles are strangely evocative. What can you tell us about the notion of a “soft aberration,” and how does it come through in the music?
One definition of aberration comes from optics, and it’s when there’s an imperfection on a glass lens. The piece Soft Aberration is a duet where the piano and viola call out to each other and try to mimic each other as they would in a traditional duet, but in my piece they are unable to do this and instead each instrument reflects back to each other a kind of broken echo. So the two characters (the viola and the piano) can never fully see each other, but they keep trying.
This attempt to see each other is what I think love is. We never see each other fully, but we try. This idea of a broken reflective surface is also a perfect metaphor for my music. All of the pieces on the album embrace a sort of differential repetition of a simple idea. But the idea never really finds its ideal presentation, and instead you’re left with a process of discovering there never was an ideal presentation.
We share a fascination with words. Tell me about the text for Bring Something Incomprehensible Into This World, the three-part work for voice and trumpet on the album. The lyrics are a series of phonetic reconstructions of the title. Where does the title come from?
Just having that sentence was enough, I didn’t need a whole poem. The text is a quote from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze [from his A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia] in reference to the German linguist Heinrich von Kleist, who was in favor of looking at an utterance as having the seeds of a thing. It’s a statement that’s an affirmation of creation in the moment. I think of that as the goal of art, in a way: to bring something that can’t be comprehended into the world. To me, that’s the love affair with art. It’s sort of pretentious to say that’s what art should do, but it’s kind of a mantra to me.
The album received a lot of nice attention when it came out. Did you anticipate such a response? Has it opened any doors for you? Is it making you think more than you might have about a second recording?
I’ve been completely humbled and surprised by how positively it’s been received. I’m incredibly grateful. It seems like a miracle, to be honest. The only thing I ever cared about was the music. I’m so lucky to have been able to work with musicians who also care so deeply about the music and who believe in my imagination. Yes, I’m seeing more doors open now and I’m more than happy to walk through them. I have so much more music I want to write. There is a second album brewing. Bearthoven will record and hopefully soon release a record of American Dream along with two other companion pieces written at the same time as American Dream. Fingers crossed the album is released within a year or so.
Red Light New Music [a composers collective and new music ensemble Wollschleger co-founded] included your Brontal No. 3 on its New Focus album Barbary Coast, and pianist Ethan Iverson, formerly of The Bad Plus, praised the piece in a review on his blog. The piano and, in a more general sense, rhythm seem like strong elements in your composing. What was your first instrument? Do you compose on an instrument? Do you still play?
Electric bass was my first instrument, followed by classical guitar. Then I settled on piano, but was quickly seduced by Scriabin’s harmony, and from then on I’ve only been composing. I sort of suck at playing music. I imagine music better than I play it. My wife says I don’t play the piano, but I “interact” with the sounds it produces. This is true. I think I’m always looking for a kind of musical interaction that feels alive and breathing. I like to say I’m composing the sound of sounds listening to themselves. I think this sort of breathing, sonic interaction can end up feeling funky, and sometimes abstractly groovy, so rhythm ends up being a strong by-product of the kind of sound interaction I’m always trying to paint.
What’s coming up for you after February?
I’m heading to the Oklahoma Electronic Music Festival in Tulsa with violist Anne Lanzilotti to present a new work I wrote for her. It’s a piece that incorporates field recordings I made of various places I call home; these sounds interact with the live viola, and the pieces ends with a two-minute recording of a nuclear bomb explosion. The viola gently plays a melody on top of the explosion.
Lastly, I’m not sure if I want to attribute the line in your bio, that you “follow lightly in the footsteps of the New York School,” to humility or hubris. What do the composers of the New York School mean to you?
My graduate composition teacher, Nils Vigeland, was a student of Feldman, and Nils definitely preached the gospel according to Feldman. So there is something of real lineage there, even if I try to shake it. But it was actually only after my schooling, when I had to reevaluate my music and its place in the real world, that I found myself more and more aligned with the composers of the New York school. If anything it was out of necessity. I wasn’t getting works performed at Tanglewood, but rather a dingy church on 86th Street. The thing I take away from the New York School was their sense of DIY aesthetics; they made art based on who and what was immediately around them at the time. I completely relate to that. I definitely feel my music is about an experience with sound rather than a competent display of fancy compositional technology.
The last thing I’m trying to do right now is to have some kind of dialogue with European history. I think the New York School (poets and painters included), before they were codified as such, were a group of creative, open-minded people who tried things out, failed often, had fun, and occasionally stumbled upon something profound. That said, I don’t care for the cult of personality or the one-dimensional ideological stiffness they sometimes professed (or later became), so a part of me is also like “fuck Cage and Feldman, fuck the New York School.” I also like classical music, and don’t feel we have to run from it like they did in 1956. But rather than being caught in some grand narrative of “greatness” that’s associated with classical music, I want to take from it what I can to make living, impactful work that’s grounded in a common everyday experience of today.
-- interview by Kurt Gottschalk, National Sawdust Log Journal, 1.31.2018