Final yr, composer Kirsten Volness did the factor all composers ought to do: she launched an entire album of her personal music. The compositions on River Rising are the kind that might occupy seven to 10 minutes of a typical Worry No Music or Cascadia Composers live performance, and it might be the perfect seven to 10 minutes of the entire present–however that’s all you’d get. That is the whole expertise these minutes all the time depart me eager for.
Now, utilizing the expanded definition of “composer” that I usually apply, this isn’t that uncommon–one other of my favourite native albums of 2020 was composed by three dudes who call themselves Gaytheist. However for a composer working, instructing, and performing within the “classical” custom to launch an album like this, properly, it’s considerably uncommon in Oregon. We may listing a number of locals who do–Bonnie Miksch, Lisa Neher, Christopher Corbell, Darrell Grant, et alia–however we may actually listing much more who don’t.
Anyhow, Riving Rising is nice, stable, engaging “classical” music, a 55-minute assortment of six chamber music compositions, eight-to-sixteen minutes apiece (plus three-minute coda “Gaia”), all held collectively by a cohesive musical voice and a coherent, well-produced sonic signature. Sparse, expressive “customary classical” devices (strings, piano) mix with compelling layers of electroacoustic soundscape, suggesting a stable familiarity with the world of educational and digital music. The harmonies and melodies are properly “pitch-centric,” in a traditional-yet-fresh form of means that stands out in a panorama usually dominated by the aesthetics of field recording and musique concrète. Volness’ surreal electroacoustic layers borrow from each with out dominating the music, offering counterpoint to the acoustic devices and likewise one thing of a crinkly body (within the post-modern sense), not completely in contrast to the acousmatic dramas of Éliane Radigue, however much more not in contrast to the pop dramas of Radiohead and Björk.
Capping all of it–once I play River Rising on my audio system or headphones, it sounds like an album. It’s not a bandcamp web page with recital audio, or a youtube playlist compiling numerous live performance performances. It’s been combined and mastered with care. You possibly can pull it up on [redacted name of streaming service]. It may well sit in your shelf with Somewhere I have never traveled, The Territory, Monica’s Notebook, and so forth.
And, after all, there are nonetheless additionally movies:
It got here as no shock that the composer had produced the album herself. “After all,” I assumed. “Right here now we have one other auteur.” And so I reached out to Volness, and we spent April emailing concerning the composing life, the instructing life, her new single (launched as we speak with astonishing animation by Alexander Dupuis), and the way she makes all these fantastic sounds.
Volness’ solutions have been condensed and edited for readability and circulate.
The a-ha second
I had a piano at dwelling and requested my mother and father for classes once I was three years previous, however it wasn’t classical music that impressed me to take action. Across the identical time, we’d exit for dinner on the Cannonball, a truckstop diner in my rural Minnesota hometown, the place every sales space had its personal jukebox—two songs for 1 / 4. I bear in mind obsessively taking part in Cyndi Lauper’s “Ladies Simply Need To Have Enjoyable” and Pink Floyd’s “Cash,” together with any Stevie Marvel tune I may discover. The sheer pleasure of these listening experiences sparked my ardour for music.
I noticed I wished to be a composer after taking Judith Lang Zaimont’s orchestration class on the Univ. of MN. It was her easy provide (and mentorship) that modified all the things: “You possibly can select a piano or chamber piece to orchestrate, or you possibly can write your personal music.” I discovered the world of composition to be completely liberating, an area the place one’s individuality was valued, the place there have been extra “proper solutions”–versus the self-loathing of by no means being ok within the observe room.
That’s not to say I didn’t have amazingly supportive piano academics, I believe I simply hit a wall the place practising felt like extra work than enjoyable. I ended taking part in for a couple of years and centered on composition, however ultimately Resort Elefant coaxed me again into the world of efficiency and I’m grateful for that.
Making River Rising and “murmurations”
I wrote these items between 5 and 17 years in the past, so this album has been a very long time within the making, and never with out plenty of assist from my pals. Earlier than instructing at Reed, I used to be primarily self-employed as a contract musician and educator, so, by necessity, a lot of the album was pieced collectively from DIY classes. Due to some pals within the multimedia and digital music composition program at Brown College, I used to be in a position to entry studio areas and nicer mics than I had at dwelling to seize most of the solo recordings.
The musicians featured are additionally good pals I’ve labored with usually, in order that facet of the method was easy and enjoyable. The string quartet was recorded at a non-profit studio in Boston designed to be reasonably priced for artists referred to as The File Firm, with assist from certainly one of their engineers. Having another person shifting mics and hitting buttons allowed me to focus extra on listening, taking notes, and speaking with the ensemble.
I met Alex Dupuis when he was an undergraduate at Brown. He performs electrical guitar with us in Verdant Vibes, and makes unimaginable multimedia and efficiency artwork of his personal. I wrote “murmurations” as a marriage reward to my associate Jacob Richman as one thing enjoyable we may play collectively that reveals off his background as a jazz bass participant. My father handed away unexpectedly when writing it, so it took a little bit of a distinct flip musically and can be devoted to him. Alex animated a distinct video for the Blevin Blectum remix launched with my album and I liked it a lot I commissioned him to create one thing for this—so the music got here first and the video two years later.
I like to collaborate, however it additionally feels empowering to have artistic management over the ultimate combine as an extension of the compositional course of. I requested individuals I belief to hear and provides me suggestions alongside the way in which. It nonetheless feels prefer it took a village.
I have a tendency to write down music that leaves room for and depends upon performers’ particular person interpretation–like jazz, people, or Romantic music may. When composing electroacoustic music, I attempt to method the digital half like I’d another instrument, like an orchestra of infinite sounds. The way in which during which the digital half interacts with stay performers varies: generally it serves as underpinning and environment, generally it performs melodies in counterpoint with the musicians, or it harmonizes and helps what they’re doing, or just enhances the timbre of the stay musicians’ sound with an added impact.
Generally it takes the lead and the musicians are requested to hear and observe. At occasions I provide the performers a click on observe to assist hold all the things synced, usually when there’s not sufficient rhythmic pulse coming from the digital cues to be useful. At different occasions, the musicians use a foot pedal to set off samples and different results to allow them to management particular timings in efficiency.
Creatively, I’m drawn to working with electronics as a result of I really feel they will create extra immersive environments (actually, in the event you’re sitting in a area of a number of audio system) and permit for an array of express and implicit references one could not have the ability to make with a flute or noticed wave alone. It’s additionally enjoyable to play with suggestions, modulation, and different spectral tips that permit us to listen to results of sound waves bodily interacting within the air round you.
I usually use these tips to reinforce the expressive qualities and dynamic form of the music itself, somewhat than being the first focus. Ultimately, it helps me join with listeners and have interaction their creativeness in several methods—and there’s nothing extra fascinating to me than listening to about all of the imagery, feelings, and concepts that my music conjures for individuals. It’s actually a present.
I’m keen on synthesizers, however my supply supplies usually encompass recordings I make, together with samples of no matter stay devices I’m writing for and different “non-musical” sounds. I normally compose the acoustic and digital components in tandem, so I’ve some sense of the composite texture all through.
“River Rising” was very completely different, in that I wrote and produced your complete fastened media half–then scratched my head, questioning what to do with the solo violin. I toyed with the concept of asking the performer to improvise, to “navigate the wave” themselves, however that didn’t go over properly with classically-trained musicians who should not used to that form of duty! So I wrote my very own improvisation that rides above the floor at occasions, and is consumed by the electronics at others, in hopes of evoking the tsunami and overwhelming grief that impressed the piece.
On a information report, I had unexpectedly seen a video of the 2011 tsunami reaching the shore in Japan and was horrified to see what forces past our management can do. It may well occur all of the sudden in moments like this, however that feeling of overwhelm may relate to extra gradually-progressing disasters like local weather change, whose results are theoretically inside our attain to mitigate, making it much more tragic.
I’d say that my up to date friends who’re working to construct neighborhood by means of their observe are probably the most inspirational to me. Gabriela Lena Frank is utilizing her success to mentor and create skilled alternatives for younger composers, actively working to develop the canon to incorporate a broader variety of voices. Ashleigh Gordon and Anthony R. Inexperienced created Fort of Our Skins to champion the work of Black composers years in the past, and it has grown into an necessary establishment main the way in which towards better fairness in our trade.
I’ve discovered boundless inspiration from the opposite members of Tenderloin Opera Firm, a houseless advocacy music and theater group during which we collectively create and carry out operas telling the story of housing insecurity in Rhode Island. Whether or not we’re singing protest songs at a rally or bringing pleasure to a neighborhood meal web site, it’s the one undertaking during which I’ve seen the tangible, optimistic results artwork can have on individuals’s lives.
I’m not the form of composer that may stand up and work for a pair hours after which transfer on to my instructing job. So, I have a tendency to write down music on days off or breaks from college, in deep-dive, marathon classes throughout which the music takes over my life. Typically the strain of a deadline helps me keep centered. Getting began is all the time the toughest half! I really like writing songs as a result of it feels just like the textual content has already executed a lot of the work and I simply must illuminate it.
Some items I write by hand, particularly acoustic solos or music that’s extra ametric, however most frequently I hear what I wish to write in my head and transcribe it immediately into Sibelius notation software program, line by line. I produce the electronics on my laptop computer utilizing Logic, Ableton, and Max/MSP, recording sounds and devices at dwelling and listening by means of numerous headphones, studio screens, automotive audio system—even my unhappy, tinny laptop computer audio system—to ensure the combination sounds proper. Jacob can be a composer and may give me suggestions once I’m uncertain of myself (which is more often than not).
I’ve been instructing music in some capability since highschool. Earlier than shifting to Portland, I used to be an adjunct professor on the College of RI, instructing 13 completely different programs over six years, from music idea, ear coaching, and piano class, to composition, orchestration, and electroacoustic music. I additionally taught piano and composition privately.
Instructing music at Reed Faculty is a bit completely different as a result of there isn’t a audition required to main in music, decreasing limitations to entry for individuals who could not have been on this path since elementary college. In actual fact, a lot of the college students I educate should not music majors, making my interdisciplinary courses like Collaborative Creativity much less novel than they may be at a college with siloed departments. This method presents its personal pedagogical challenges, however suits properly with my instructing philosophy that everybody is artistic and able to making artwork—it’s only a matter of constructing the talents and understanding obligatory to speak their concepts successfully and taking the chance of doing so.
Whether or not by way of listening, programming, instructing composition, or curricular improvement, I’ve been increasing and refocusing my instructing to be extra inclusive and consultant of a broader inventive neighborhood. The racial justice rebellion of the previous yr kicked this impulse into overdrive and, like many different academics, I really feel we have to rethink our programs of (music) training together with the remainder. It’s an ongoing strategy of reimagining what a Twenty first-century music diploma entails and the way it greatest serves the objectives and pursuits of the scholars I educate.
I discovered learn how to be self-employed by necessity and have been incorporating that information into my instructing. My curiosity in neighborhood constructing and humanities advocacy informs most issues I do, together with my assignments. As evidenced by my graduating senior advisees who wrote their artistic theses on “acid techno” and “psychedelic cumbia” respectively, it’s necessary to me that each pupil is aware of they’re on their very own particular person musical path and that I meet them the place they’re presently. I put together them for skilled careers, however, no matter how they make a residing, I hope that their musical experiences make them extra empathetic and imaginative residents of the world.
Composition classes, like many classes, are a bit like remedy–with the intention to “succeed,” it is advisable study your self as a lot as you do the subject at hand. There’s a craft facet of it, however the half I really like probably the most is seeing progress of their potential to specific their concepts, once you begin to see increasingly of their persona shining by means of with confidence. That’s the perfect.
What do you take heed to for pleasure?
Brief listing: MMW, Björk, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, David Bowie, Fiona Apple, the aforementioned Stevie Marvel. I’m actually impressed by musicians whose fashion evolves, who take inventive dangers and develop by means of collaboration, versus artists that appear to write down the identical music over and over as a result of it has discovered a viable market. So John Zorn ought to in all probability seem in that brief listing, too. I’m impressed by Lizzo’s sincerity, humorousness, and advocacy.
I positively transfer between completely different modes of listening. In latest months, it’s been numerous Harold Budd, Cocteau Twins, Pauline Oliveros—no matter soothes the soul within the background whereas I’m doing different issues. I hear to numerous radio stations to discover new music: my previous faculty station, Radio Ok, and their web hip-hop channel The Vanguard; New Sounds on WQXR/WNYC; 20/21 Music on WTUL; domestically XRAY, The Numberz, KBOO, KRRC, and All Classical Portland.
Pandemic releases I take pleasure in embrace Mulatu Astatke, serpentwithfeet, Run the Jewels, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Missy Mazzoli’s bass concerto Darkish with Extreme Shiny, and an entire lot of music my present and former college students have been writing. You possibly can take a look at a few of their latest releases on Bandcamp—Aaron Space & His Terrestrial Underlings, David “Motocross” David, House of Warmth, Husk Oscillations, and Renegade Snares.
Final query: what would Kirsten Volness ask Kirsten Volness?
“What’s the weirdest gig you’ve performed to this point?” In 2011, I used to be commissioned to write down a bit for REDSHIFT to commemorate the UN Worldwide Yr of Forests. The premiere was at an awards ceremony stuffed with international dignitaries at which Rwanda gained an award for reforesting their nation post-genocide. The occasion was on the Central Park Zoo, so the ocean lions had been singing alongside fervently in the course of the efficiency, and I acquired to strive sustainable protein (bugs!) for the primary time with Olympic gold medalist and UN Ambassador Carl Lewis!
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