Dear Daniel, welcome back to Neuguitars.com. In 2019 you have released a new record, a double cd album, “Mirrored Spaces”, there are a lot of questions that I want to ask for. First, why a double cd? It’s really unusual in the world of the contemporary music for guitar….
Thanks for welcoming me back Andrea. To be entirely honest the initial intention wasn’t necessarily to do a double CD. I feel like I have a couple of different kinds of projects; first, ones that are clear in conception from the outset and I know all the repertoire that will be included and I’m planning from the outset how to see it through, and second, projects that stumble around in the dark for a while until all of a sudden it’s clear to me how the finished album will look. “Mirrored Spaces” falls in the second category, and actually in a lot of ways I tend to feel closer to those in the second category, because the process of not knowing facilitates more of a sense of discovery than a clear cut implementation of a plan. I had a collection of music that meant a lot to me that I had recorded about a decade ago and the recordings were sitting waiting for an album home. When I came back to those pieces I realized that there were several more recent pieces that I had been championing in the last couple of years that felt like they rounded out the concept in an elegant way, so that’s when I set out to finish it. And it ended up being two cds worth of music 🙂
I come from popular music, in the this world a doulbe album is an object full of many semantic meanings, it’s an important corner stone in the career of every musician and band. It’s a kind of holy grail. Is it the same in the world of contemporary guitar?
I know what you mean, you think of Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti,” or “The White Album”… I think contemporary concert music tends to be more repertoire driven so maybe this idea of a double album, when it does come up, is typically serving a more archival purpose (i.e. the complete keyboard works of X composer, etc..). But I also have embedded popular music DNA buried inside of me, and I do think the sensibility of those great concept albums may have shaped my approach to this one subconsciously, particularly in how I chose to arrange the program.
“Normal” classical guitar records are usually conceived as a recital, “Mirrored Spaces”, on the other hand, seems different to me. I believe you have done an excellent and intelligent job, contrasting the piecess with each other in such a way that not only their differences stand out, but that listening in a different order is … problematic. Listened to on their own, the piecess do not “sound” in the same way. Is it possible that you created a sort of semiological order?
Thanks. The order was definitely something I curated self-consciously. I took the concept of “Mirrored Spaces,” and in fact the conceit of the title piece itself, as a model for how to arrange the program and order of pieces themselves. It’s not strict, but if you listen to the program, the pieces on the two discs mirror each other and are in dialogue with one another in one form or another. So the electro-acoustic pieces begin and end each disc (I think of Scaffold, the final track, as a sort of coda), and each disc has multi-movement works, electric guitar solos in scordatura, and classical guitar solos that reference older styles, etc.. And they are all tied together by Kyle Bartlett’s introspective Aphorisms, which function like short soliloquies that step out in relief between the other works on the discs.
On the New Focus Recording website you talk about a 2008 performance entitled “Experiments in Co-Composition” at The Tank, where, in a sense, it all started. Can you tell us about it?
I organized a concert in September 2008 at a downtown venue in Manhattan with three close composer colleagues, Orianna Webb, Peter Gilbert, and Ryan Streber. The idea was to blur the lines to varying degrees experimenting with a collaborative composition process. In the case of the work with Orianna Webb, the result was the title work of the recording, Mirrored Spaces, which is a six movement suite where we wrote responsive movements, passing off material to the other and then coming together to discuss larger structural questions. Ryan Streber’s Descent wrote almost all of the piece for electric guitar and two amplifiers (one distorted, one clean) but he left a few connective passages open for me to fill in with idiomatic material. And Peter Gilbert and I collaborated on the cheekily titled Baptizing the Loop Station (this didn’t make the album) — he composed the electronic part and I composed the live guitar part for that piece. I think the whole project grew out of a feeling that we had been collaborating and closely curating so many concert experiences together and we were interested in seeing how that would manifest itself in the compositional process itself.
How long did it take you to make such a complex project?
The earliest recordings for this album were made between 2008-11, then one piece in 2014, and then the rest of the repertoire was recorded in 2017-2019. But the bulk of the production work was done in 2019 to tie everything together once I knew what the final thing was going to look like.
This double CD also expresses an interesting geographical heterogeneity, how did you choose the pieces and the composers that are part of it?
That was really a happy accident — I was introduced to Swiss composer Karin Wetzel’s wonderful piece with live electronics by Todd Tarantino and Du Yun when they were curating the MATA Festival and asked me to perform it. I met Brazilian composer Sergio Kafejian on a tour with the International Contemporary Ensemble in Sao Paolo when I played an earlier piece of his, In Harmonica. When he was in New York on a yearlong residency at NYU, we decided to work together on a new work, from scratch, which is truly a wonderful addition to the electro-acoustic repertoire. Dalia R. With was a Lithuanian composer based in New York who wrote a solo guitar work, Primo cum lumina solis, for a recording she released on New Focus in 2018. She tragically passed away that summer, and I wanted to include the piece on this recording both to honor her memory, but also because I felt it fit beautifully in the program. Sidney Corbett is an American born composer based in Germany who wrote Detroit Rain Song Graffiti for me to be premiered at the Sinus Ton Festival in Madgeburg, Germany in 2014, which is also where I was introduced to Christopher Bailey’s fantastic Arc of Infinity. The remaining composers represented are all US based and I’m very grateful to call them friends as well as colleagues, which I think is a gift because the relationship you have with collaborators really shapes the essence of the work. Overall, the geographic diversity was something I was aware of, but it wasn’t a driving force in my choice of repertoire, just something that I was glad to see come together as the program coalesced.
New Focus Recording now has a consolidated but at the same time rapidly expanding catalog, I myself really struggle to follow all your releases. How do you keep this pace? What’s the secret?
Well, I need to emphasize that the New Focus catalogue is really the fruit of a community of artists who are dedicated to making recordings and documenting this music. I take a stab on the New Focus website at shouting out many of those people and I won’t take up the space here or risk forgetting someone, (www.newfocusrecordings.com), but the contribution that people in the community have made really is a testament to their dedication to the preservation of the music of our time. My role as director varies from release to release, from my own albums where I’m involved in at every level, to others where I might be playing or producing on some of the tracks, to many other releases where the artists are driving all decisions, and New Focus is simply the conduit to help get the recording out into the world and spread the word, etc.. I’m grateful to have two great folks working with me on the label right now, both excellent guitarists in fact, Marc Wolf who does many of the designs, is the webmaster, and also the co-artistic director of partner label Furious Artisans, and Neil Beckmann who does great work on the project management admin side. And any discussion of the output of New Focus needs to acknowledge engineer and composer Ryan Streber of Oktaven Audio, a stellar musician and engineer who has been at the controls for a huge number of important releases in the last 15 years not just for New Focus but also for several other labels.
What will your next projects be? What are you working on?
I have a few ongoing projects. One is a recording of layered compositions in one form or another, a la Electric Counterpoint, anchored by some great pieces by Peter Adriaansz, Dai Fujikura, and David Crowell. I’m working on editing the fingerings for the scores for the piece Mirrored Spaces as well as an epic album length work, Andrew Violette’s Guitar Sonata that I released on New Focus a few years ago. There are a couple of chamber recordings in the works, one with an ensemble counter)induction that I play with, including music by Kyle Bartlett, Ryan Streber, and Douglas Boyce (both on Mirrored Spaces as well), as well as Diego Tedesco and Jessica Meyer, and another that is more of the cobbled together variety — pulling together various sessions I’ve gotten in the can over the last several years. I’m writing this while much of the world is under social isolation policies in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, including here in New York City where I live. I think like many other artists, I’m using this enforced time to focus on projects that needed attention, but we’re all also very troubled by the crisis and worried for each other and for the greater good and so it creates an odd duality in one’s mental space. It is safe to say this crisis will have a transformative impact on society, not to mention the devastating pain of losing so many to the virus. Just wishing everyone health and safety and hoping for better times ahead.