Listen to Natalie and Billie's conversation on the By Measure Podcast:
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
photography by Gina Garbero
You perform a lot of new music and contemporary improvisation. What got you into modern music?
My parents have a great love of music -- my dad has a fantastic jazz and classical record collection and we went to a lot of concerts. I attended a public arts high school where I studied theory and composition with Jon Grier, who introduced me to a lot of contemporary classical and early music.
As a clarinetist, you are able to perform with many different ensembles from classical orchestras to ragtime jazz. Do you have any interesting experiences from your various performances?
I’ve improvised while under hypnosis, played duets with Gnatheonemus petersii (a Nigerian Elephantnose fish that emits an electrical impulse), and performed blindfolded while accompanying a dancer who was also blindfolded.
In contrast to those experiences, one of my favorite ongoing projects has been working with Orlando’s Dream, a clarinet trio that specializes in 16th and 17th century music originally composed for consorts of viols. The clarinets mirror the transparent timbre of the viols, so the music suits our instruments quite well. Don Jacobs plays Bb clarinet, and Kurt Bjorling plays basset horn and leads the group. Though he's best known for his work in the Klezmer world, Kurt has extensively researched early music and is quite knowledgeable about performance practice. He brings a wealth of musical experience as well as seemingly boundless enthusiasm and energy into every rehearsal. I never had the opportunity to play chamber music regularly in school, so I've learned a tremendous amount by rehearsing nearly every week with such accomplished musicians over the past three years.
What do you think of music criticism and music journalism?
I’m particularly happy to see more musicians stepping up to the plate by writing about their own music, and advocating for their peers and heroes in a meaningful way. I also enjoy reading and listening to interviews led by musicians, where there's an implied sense of trust and the specifics of their music and history are laid out more directly.
Are you working on anything new? Do you have any upcoming performances?
I'm excited about Trio Clarice, a new group with clarinetist James Falzone and vocalist Carol Gennetti. We recently performed a compositions of Carol's at the MCA. I’m working on a new piece for the group that’s based around a text from some speech recognition software left to its own devices.
I’m looking forward to devoting more time to quiet improvised music that incorporates unpitched, extended techniques and copious amounts of silence. I’m playing a concert or two with Graham Stephenson, Aaron Zarzutzki, Daniel Fandiño and Marc Riordan with this focus in mind. I hope to collaborate again with Ohio-based percussionist Ryan Jewell and Chris Riggs in this vein as well.
Anton Hatwich and I play jazz brunch every Sunday at Township in Logan Square. We're using this as an opportunity to dive into Herbie Nichols and Monk tunes.
What is your most-desperately-needed non-music art form? How do you think this influences your work? (asked by Chad Langford)
I’ve recently ventured into film photography by purchasing a 35mm camera. It’s an artistic outlet that serves as a break from music making, not to mention an excuse to get outside when the weather is cooperating. Photography also satisfies a need to create something that might eventually become a physical object (far less expensive than making records). Using film obligates me to be conscious of my materials.
With both music and photography, I'm interested in the idea of creating, as opposed to filling, a sense of space and time. I’m also reminded that a moment captured on film is unique – nearly impossible to recreate even under similar circumstances – a concept that applies to any sort of performed music as well.
What would be a good question to ask the next musician on By Measure?
How do the musicians you regularly collaborate with influence your work?
(stream these songs here)
Don't Jazz Me - Rag (I'm Music) -- James Scott (performed by Bob Wright, piano)
Garden Cress -- The Contest of Pleasures (John Butcher/Xavier Charles/Axel Dörner)
Something to Live For -- Steve Lacy
Moldavian Zhok -- Duo Controverso (Kurt and Annette Bjorling)
God's Girlfriend -- Tres Hongos (Jacob Wick/Marc Riordan/Frank Rosaly)
Wolverine Blues -- Jelly Roll Morton
Karaharapriya-Athi -- Brahma Sri Tiruchendur Appadurai Aiyengar
Take Me Back to Baltimore -- Elizabeth Cotten
Fantasie No. 4 a 3 -- Orlando Gibbons (performed by Jordi Savall)
Good Vibrations -- James Gadson
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
You've been studying and working abroad for several years now. Has the immersion in new cultures affected your work?
It's difficult to say anything about specific influences, but of course this has certainly affected me. I moved to The Netherlands in 2007 to focus completely on my composition. Before that time composing had always been very much on the side of what I was doing, and I had had very few performances of my (at that time) very few performance-worthy pieces. In terms of my compositional development at that time I was completely inexperienced, from a practical standpoint. Moving to a country with such a vibrant new-music culture as Holland was like being dropped from the moon into the middle of some bustling foreign marketplace.
As an artist, The Netherlands is a fantastic country to live in. Generally speaking, the Dutch have a very open-minded, casual, and anarchic approach to life and art that I think has helped them punch far above their weight, considering their relatively small population. In The Hague, and certainly at the conservatorium, there was a huge international influence as well. The city of The Hague itself is comprised of nearly 40% foreigners, due to it's status as a governmental hub and international center of business. At the conservatorium I became friends with musicians from all over Europe, South and Central America, and Asia. Being constantly exposed to all of these new ideas made a big impact, of course. I became a lot more adventurous in my musical thinking. In terms of working relationships there was very little competitive, cutthroat bullshit, at least as far as I witnessed; everyone was quite open-minded and supportive of one another. Whilst I was there, a sub-section of the composition students at the conservatorium began referring to themselves as the "Second Hague School". This is indicative of the collectivist mentality there, which I think is absolutely vital, especially for artists working across non-mainstream media.
After getting settled in The Netherlands, I found it very easy to get into the scene and I was quickly thrown into many interesting projects, both as a composer and as a performer. I got in way over my head, at least initially! Between 2007 and 2010 I developed at lightning speed. It was an amazing time. Things feel quite different now that we've moved to the northeast of England. There's a much smaller population base, and everything is certainly much more culturally homogenous. Indeed, it reminds me of my native Montana in many respects! In comparison with Holland it would be easy to say that "nothing's happening" up here, but there are some interesting composers and many fantastic musicians, as well as some established, world-class festivals in the region, so it feels like there's potential. I'm very happy to be here and to be getting involved with some new-music projects that will hopefully take off over the coming two-to-three years.
What are three not-to-miss things to do or see in The Hague?
The Hague is (undeservedly, I think) not typically on the "must-see" tourist trail for visitors to the Netherlands. While it doesn't tick the usual "Dutch holiday" boxes (labyrinthine canals, well-preserved windmills, people wearing traditional costume), it has it's own history and character, and you've got to look past the smooth, well-heeled government-and-big-business exterior to find it.
1. The beach at Kijkduin. Everyone will try to take you to Scheveningen, but little Kijkduin (about 4 kilometers further south) is where it's at. We used to get to the beach through the dunes just north of Kijkduin, where there's a cozy beach cafe, De Kwartel. Lovely on a summer's afternoon with a "biertje" (small glass of beer). In summer, when the North Sea is warmer, it's lovely to have a swim.
2. The Binnenhof. This is the old, administrative heart of The Netherlands. It's a little warren of beautifully kept buildings in the center of The Hague where the parliament meets and the prime minister has his offices. The Mauritshuis is right next door, where you can usually see Vermeer's "Meisje met de parel" (Girl with a Pearl Earring), although I think she's on tour in Japan at the moment….?
3. Wander round the Schilderswijk. One of the older areas of The Hague, with lots of interesting restaurants, cafes and shops. Quite a difference from the super-high-end feel around Noordeinde (which is also a must-see).
Do you have any new pieces premiering soon? What else are you working on?
No premieres for a few months now! I'm working on a piece for piano, viola and flute, the last of a four-part series for an ensemble with a "nested" or "additive" instrumentation. The idea is that you could play all four pieces in order on one half of a program, where the setting would grow from piece to piece; solo to trio to quintet to octet, with every performer playing in at least two of the pieces. They could also be done individually or in other groupings. I've got a couple of revisions on the table as well, one of them for a piece that I wrote for the POW Ensemble (NL) last year. I wasn't totally happy with it, and they've got some concerts coming up in the autumn and winter, so I need to get busy with the revision. And there's a half-finished orchestra piece in my drawer!
How do you notate the electronic parts of your scores?
Most of the electronic stuff I've done has been written for a performer with soundtrack, using a clicktrack for sync, so I haven't had much need to notate the electronics. The piece I did for the POW Ensemble last autumn was an exception, scored as it was for two laptops and harpsichord, with Luc Houtkamp and myself controlling our computers using various devices. For that piece I just used traditional notation showing execution points in relation to the harpsichord part. I think traditional notation is extremely elegant and flexible for notating everything from precise rhythmic values to more improvisatory elements, and for my music I haven't yet needed to expand on it in any significant way. Of course, the goal is clarity and efficiency. If you're able to notate an idea using more or less traditional notation then you may save time in rehearsal, but if you can notate it more elegantly using a new, custom notation, then that's obviously the way to go.
There are a lot of new music groups dedicated to performing contemporary works popping up all over the world. How do you see these groups changing the landscape of classical music in the future?
I think this trend toward smaller, dedicated new-music ensembles has been evolving for several decades now; really since at least the 1960s. It's a reflection of the ever-changing dialogue between the requirements of art, the wider culture, finance, all sorts of factors. Of course, this natural trend is to be encouraged and must continue! How else can we keep things ticking over, in terms of keeping the new-music community vibrant, keeping things fresh? I remember speaking with one of the elder statesmen of Dutch composition, Gilius van Bergeijk, in 2009, shortly after the "financial crisis". Holland was starting to face serious arts funding cuts, and Gilius was saying that the best thing to do in these types of situations is to start an ensemble. That's exactly right. Of course, you hear people in mainstream business saying similar things: when there's a recession, it's a good time to start up something.
Like most European countries, The Netherlands has recently suffered huge arts cuts as part of their austerity measures (although I must add that now, AFTER the cuts, funding for music per capita in Holland matches that of the US. Before 2010 it was around 30% higher than in the US, per capita – I did the math. The difference is that in The Netherlands it's mostly state funding, while the US favors private funding). Comparing the US / Dutch numbers really highlights the huge difference in cultural perceptions of how the arts should be funded. Before 2010, The Netherlands had an annual arts budget of 750 million euros, for a population of only 16 million. By contrast, in 2009 the NEA in the US had an annual arts budget of 155 million dollars, for a population of 300 million. Total arts funding in the US during this period was around 12 billion dollars from ALL sources, meaning that the portion kicked in from the federal government was only around 1.3 percent. In the US, it is individuals, corporate donors, and local government that do the heavy lifting in terms of arts funding.
Anyway, public interest and public money for avant-garde art may wax and wane, but I'm convinced that in whatever country you live, we've simply got to keep on creating, exploring, and making the absolute best stuff that we can. That's the priority. Just make sure that the art's really happening. This sounds quite simple and self-evident. It isn't.
How long have you been in your current studio? What do you like most about it?
We moved into this cottage last August. Before our move to the UK we'd been in the top floor of a Dutch-style house in Den Haag; very small for two and I didn't have a separate work space, so I was hunkered in the corner of our sitting room. Now I've got my own work room, but it's quite dark and a bit small. I'm not complaining! :-)
Describe your dream work space.
Plenty of light and MASSES of table space and bookshelves. I really mean big, sturdy tables (or countertops) and bookshelves ALL THE WAY AROUND the room. A big empty space in the middle for the stuff of the moment. A mini-fridge, hob top, and a sink for washing up would be the icing on the cake.
What's your favorite natural phenomenon? (question asked by Coppice)
A starry night, well away from any light pollution. For me, nothing else comes close in terms of feeling like I'm "right here, right now"; happy, at home, and an important, lucky little part of the unfathomable universe.
What would be an interesting question for the next person to be interviewed for By Measure?
What is your most-desperately-needed non-music art form? How do you think this influences your work?
These kinds of lists are extremely difficult to make. Here are a few of the pieces or album collections which I could sing in my head from start to finish:
David Bowie: Station to Station
Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
An amazing, breathtaking achievement. Not much else to say, really.
Mahler: Symphony no. 6
The Szell / Cleveland Orchestra live recording from 1967 is fantastic. Avoid any nausea-inducing Bernstein recordings.
Shostakovich: Quartet no. 15
The Shostakovich Quartet recording on Olympia is my favorite; haunting, tragic, transporting… This recording is one of the best examples I can think of from the 'classical' canon where the both the performance as well as the sound of the recording–the engineering, mics, choice of room, etc.–really come together to create something sublime. I see online that some people think these performances are "dated", but I don't really understand what that means. Isn't every recording more or less "dated"?
Takemitsu: A Way A Lone II
My favorite piece by the composer who finally got me thinking deeply about 'time' in music.
Messiaen: Éclairs Sur L'Au-Delà…
My musical language has owed quite a bit to Messiaen. This, his last piece, contains whole worlds…
Monday, January 28, 2013
What is the history of your place? What is your favorite element of the space?
The building was constructed around 1860, back in the time when a lot of business owners would
work downstairs and live upstairs. We haven’t been able to track down exactly what it used
to be, but we are pretty sure it was always an office downstairs and an apartment up here. My
favorite element of the space is the windows. I remember when we first walked in I was totally
overwhelmed by the beauty of the space, the 12ft ceilings, and the three huge loft windows. I’ve
also done a lot of painting and decorating here that has really made it feel like home.
You recently put out a new album with the help of many supporters on Kickstarter and went on tour to support it. What was your favorite part of making the album and being on tour?
My favorite part of making the album was the mixing. Maybe it’s laziness because that part was
easy for me! But I think mostly it was the feeling that I could breathe and let go a little. I knew the
album was in great hands with Brian Zieske (Gallery of Carpet Studio), and it was just amazing to
finally hear all the pieces come together, pieces we had been working on for almost a year and
a half. During the mixing process I took off work (my day job as a bridal consultant) and got to
spend a week just doing what I love, and doing the best part of it: sitting and listening, editing,
eating, drinking, laughing, going a little stir crazy… it’s such a good time.
My favorite part of being on tour was seeing so many different landscapes in such a short amount
of time. In one day we drove from Austin, TX to San Diego, CA, and it was amazing to watch the
scenery change. I have to mention that my favorite place to stop, however, was Brattleboro, VT.
I have a very dear friend who lives there. We stayed with him and his boyfriend for a few days,
and it was pretty amazing. We swam in rivers, and went to odd little record shops. The houses
and landscapes there seem like they are out of a painting or a movie. Paul, my Brattleboro friend,
even convinced me to go to church Sunday morning, which I hadn’t been to in about 2 years, and
it was really a place full of love and acceptance.
You recorded most of your new album here, but also recorded parts in a studio. How did the two different spaces affect the outcome of your album?
That’s a tough question. I think the multiple spaces served us in exactly the way we needed them
to. The parts we did in the studio we had down pat; we basically knew exactly what we needed
to do for drums, piano, and vocals. Everything else was a little bit up in the air. All the other
parts were done at the apartment, or in odd spaces around town. We demoed, listened to, and
reworked a lot of the parts we did here at home. It really gave us the time and freedom to play.
The downside, however, is that we didn’t back up our hard drive like we should have, and in one
devastating crash, lost 6 months of work. That doesn’t normally happen when you do everything
at a studio. But we recovered, and even ended up liking some of the re-recorded parts better. I
think for me, being able to sit alone in my own space, where I’m comfortable and record parts
before anyone could analyze or criticize them, was vital. I needed the freedom to experiment with
parts that may sound totally insane to other people. Some of those parts made the album, and
some really did sound ridiculous.
If you could play another instrument, what would you want it to be?
I would love to be able to play cello. It’s such a beautiful and soothing instrument. Plus I hear a
lot of cello in my music and it would be nice to be able to lay down those parts myself.
What book character do you most identify with, and why? (question asked by Annie)
Ok, here is my confession that I don’t read nearly as much as I should. And here is my totally
girly, stereotypical answer to that question: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I guess I
could say that she is the character that I would most like to be. I can tend to be a very stubborn girl, dead set on being self-sufficient. My car had a flat tire one day and I just loathed that I had to
call my husband for help. I tried for 30 minutes to do it myself first and couldn’t. I think Elizabeth
would have done the same. But at the end, she ends up being love sick like the rest of the girls.
That’s pretty much me. But she’s smart and funny and different. I hope that could be me.
What would be an interesting question to ask the next person/band to be on By Measure?
What music do you think people would be surprised to know you listen to?
(stream this playlist here)
1. Fiona Apple - On the Bound
2. Rufus Wainwright - Foolish Love
3. Jon Brion - Ruin My Day
4. Nina Simone - I Want a Little Sugar In My Bowl
5. Regina Spektor - Samson
6. Harry Nilsson - The Puppy Song
7. Feist - Let It Die
8. Rachael Yamagata - Horizon
Friday, January 18, 2013
The creation of your sound is very specific-- prepared bellows and reeds altered and elaborated by custom electronics. How did you discover and hone your aesthetic?
We talked about wanting to collaborate on something that sounded good, so we collected things we were interested in. Most of it got thrown out, but through a reductive process, the tiny portion that we were excited about continues to reveal itself as much larger. That's what we keep finding.
Your work also encompasses visual elements as well as sound. What is your process for working in both areas? Do you typically start with one or the other?
Anything that has a visual element gets it to support a more aural objective.
You've traveled a lot to present your work. Did you find that your music or installations received different reactions depending on where you've performed?
More important that different places we play for different audiences, and in many different contexts. Those contexts are what affects their reactions, and we enjoy the variety of reactions we've received. Everywhere we've been people have reacted quite inquisitively, with many questions.
How long have you been in your current studio/practice space? What do you like most about it?
Our studio space varies depending on the project. We're currently working at our Pilsen location because it's where most of our materials are. It's important to have a good level of quiet, and bright natural light.
We take cellphone photos through holes. We browse dictionaries, hold empty vessels up to our ears, and blow air onto the edges of things almost impulsively. It's a major feature to go to the bathroom before a show.
You recently worked with an instrument maker on a new instrument. How much input did you have on the construction and design of it?
Andrew Furse designed and hand-crafted the Apiary specifically for Coppice. He checked in a few times during its design process and was open to suggestions. The instrument is a reaction to the extended techniques we found from instruments that were designed to achieve other effects. The Apiary makes those techniques more ready to our touch, and we think it comes from Andrew's observation of our process.
Andrew has just designed the Vinculum Specimen Edition for Coppice. They're five boxes that not only are instruments derived from our sound palette, but also holders of the current output of the Vinculum sonic archive.
How do you notate your pieces?
Some pieces have arrived in spontaneous, complex forms, and it can take us a long time to identify their components with words, but we're able to successfully perform them by shared memory and shared effect. We have scored while composing before, but usually we let scoring be a transcription process, once the piece's effect has solidified in performance and in our experience as a duo. Our instruments can be quite brittle and temperamental (and us as well), so we try to avoid being reductive and let the pieces be in process first.
Technically speaking, we depart from what we need of standard notation, then include prose, custom symbols, and layout structures based on what the piece calls for. A lot of the core elements of our music are locked within experiential discernment and an intuitive understanding for a shared desire for specific effects – all that is very difficult to convey on score and with words.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Determination to bring about thick condensation into long plastic tubing. Endurance at lightheadedness.
What would be an interesting question to ask the next person/band to be on By Measure?
What's your favorite natural phenomena?
(stream this playlist here)
To Be Small in a Small Place - Jason Zeh
You and I in the Formidable Fire - Quarry House
Outside Ones - Gangi
Roundel - John Kannenberg
Untitled 3 - Giuseppe Ielasi
Trio - Stephen Cornford
nome - MKR
Just My Imagination - Jeff Kolar
Utopia Semi-Waltz - Jono El Grande
I'm a Lonesome Cowboy - Berglind Tómasdóttir
Overture from Heath ("All Weather Adheasion") - Andrew Furse