Category Archives: Influences

Mid-Missouri Composers Symposium at Osage Arts Community

I was attending Mid-MO Composers Symposium in mid July. This week-long event was initiated and directed by composer Nolan Stolz, and was hosted by the Osage Arts Community in Belle, MO.  Total of eleven composers from all over the country gathered at the OAC, and we discussed various topics and inspired each other.  In fact, I don’t think I ever had this much fun talking about music since the college years.

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Here are some topics we have discussed in the formal discussion panel:

  1. Electronic music
  2. Perceiving musical form
  3. Timbral/behavioral counterpoint
  4. Intertextuality in instrumental composition
  5. Teaching students in the interdisciplinary arts
  6. Perceiving musical form
  7. Outreach and funding
Here are some planned (and a few unplanned) activities
  1. Hang out at the river
  2. Listening and discussion of Corigliano’s score for Altered States
  3. Attend Alarm Will Sound’s open rehearsal at Mizzou International Composers Festival
  4. Attend county fair and demolition derby
  5. Watch the movie Untitled
  6. Tour of a restored Missouri prairie
  7. Karaoke night
  8. “Guess the composer of this program notes” game
When there were no activities, each composer worked at his/her work in a private and quite space. The center has many buildings in the town, and is transforming the town into an artist heaven. All accommodation and foods are provided by the OAC for free.  In short, I highly recommend the Composers Symposium and residency at the OAC. I know I will come back when I need a time and space for my projects.

Lastly, Belle is located in a beautiful rural area. I was happy to hear many inspiring sounds. The below is a recording of a chicken coop owned by OAC. You can almost hear checkins pecking my leg and the recorder.

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Making Your Life as an Artist

Making Your Life As an Artist by Andrew Simonet is a free, concise book that can be downloaded at the Artists U site. It took me less than three hours to finish the book, but it gave me great tips and advices on how to live a balanced and sustainable life as a musician.

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The author is an active choreographer, but the principles discussed in the book can be applied to music (or any other art). I was stressed for not having enough time and space to work  in the past week. After reading this book, I learned good strategies on how to plan, finance, make time, and focus on artistic mission. I’m not so stressed anymore.

The first three chapters discusses about the role of artists in the world, why artist have challenging life, and the skills that artists already have to overcome such challenges. The last five chapters provide practical examples and how-to’s on making a living as an artist. I was also enlightened to read about entertainment vs art, science vs art, career vs mission, perfect vs good enough, and other analyses. I particularly love the analogies and examples:

“[Seed savers and some farmers] grow things that don’t fit with industrial agriculture. They preserve the seeds for plants we may need someday. This is what artists do culturally.” -p29

“Art is not cultural broccoli, something you hate but should consume.” – p33

“A lot of artists’ lives are built for 23-year-old single, frenetic, healthy, childless workaholics. That doesn’t last. Our lives change and our needs change” – p77 

For its price and quality of information, the book has great value for my artist friends. It has even greater value for my non-artist friends since it will help you understand their art/music/dance friends a little better. I am planning to use the book as a reading material for my improvisation ensemble and upper-level music classes. I look forward to have a great discussion with the students about artist sustainability.

 PS: For my musician friends and students who are starting their post-college music career, I also recommend Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching. 

PSS: Since I mentioned about art and dance, here’s a little clip on my  collaboration with a dancer friend.

Listening Through the Noise

If you are a musician who ever thought “what am I doing?” or “why am I doing this?” about your music and performance, I recommend Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music by Joanna Demers. The book surveys and analyzes aesthetics of electroacoustic music, electronica, sound art, and many of their subgenres. Aesthetics is not an easy subject for me, but all the post-it notes I have put in the book should  attest that I have throughly enjoyed reading this book.

DemersThe author defines experimental music as “any music that rejects tradition and takes risks through running counter to musical inventions”, and experimental electronic music as “anything that challenges conventions of electronic music.” I recently witnessed a passionate debate on the definition of experimental music, and perhaps that is why I read this book again. I like the author’s emphasis on the risk in defining experimental music. Experiments assume that there is always a chance to fail, and I’d like to think that experimental music has risk to fail to be conventionally musical or meaningful, which is not a bad thing.

One thesis of the book is that the electronic music has “dismantled the musical frame.” When electronics are involved in music making and listening, non-instrumental sounds such as field recordings, noises, and silences become musical and valuable. Those sounds also blur boundaries between real-world sound and music. The author ends the book by stating that the sounds in electronic music are “strange in the real world, but they also succeed in making the real world strange. ” That is a beautiful thing for me, and I think this is why I keep making music with electronic devices.

To finish this post, I would like to share a piece that I asked myself “does this work?” and “am I doing a right thing?” It is a good sign that these thoughts came up in my mind. Electronic music is good at asking questions.

Sound and Fury

When I was researching on deafness for my current project, my audiologist friend Erin Desmarais suggested me to watch Sound and Fury. As a person who values hearing the most important asset and skill, this documentary about deaf culture was a shocking eye-opener. Below is the summary  of the documentary from PBS.

SOUND AND FURY documents one family’s struggle over whether or not to provide two deaf children with cochlear implants, devices that can stimulate hearing. As the Artinians of Long Island, New York debate what is the right choice for the two deaf cousins, Heather, 6, and Peter, 1 1/2, viewers are introduced to one of the most controversial issues affecting the deaf community today. Cochlear implants may provide easier access to the hearing world, but what do the devices mean for a person’s sense of identity with deaf culture? Can durable bridges be built between the deaf and hearing worlds? Find out.

I assigned my acoustics students to watch the documentary and write their opinions on whether the protagonist should get the cochlear implant or not. The followup debate was loud and full of emotions.

A simple YouTube search will give you an access to a full documentary and its short sequel (watch the original first!). I strongly recommend it to all my music friends. We musicians cannot imagine the life without sound, and it is fascinating to learn about the culture that does not have/need sound. Find out the “fury” portion of the documentary by yourself.

PS: My research on deafness was for this upcoming show. More information will be posted at therenegadecompany.org soon.

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John Oswald

I met John Oswald when I attended Orford Sound Art Workshop in 2006. Initially, I was quite nervous about meeting the composer I read in the textbooks. Like other participating students, I was tense and eager to show how good and serious I am about learning sound art.

After spending two weeks with him, I learned that my imaginations about famous artists were quite different from their real personalities. I think the photo below exemplifies what kind of “workshop” I had with him.

John Oswald (left), Joo Won Park (right), a hand (center)

In addition to an impromptu swimming in the lake, John led a contact improvisation (for a bunch of music tech people), organized a field trip to a Gregorian chant-singing monastery, and shared good foods and drinks. I went to the workshop to work 24/7 on electroacoustic techniques, but John inspired me to have fun doing music. His music is playful but not silly. His compositional techniques are often transparent, but virtuosity and hard work are definitely present. When listening to his pieces, I smile and learn at the same time.

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I guess I had my Karate Kid moment with him. Instead of wax on wax off, I swam, danced, and got drunk to be a better musician. After a few discussions with John, I decided to make a sound palindrome for the final presentation. The idea was to make a piece that sounds exactly the same when played forward and reversed. The piece is not plunderphonics, but I liked what I did (click here to read and listen). A year after the workshop, I worked a little more on the palindrome idea and made a longer piece (click here to read and listen). I like it even more.

PS: If you are not familiar with John Oswald’s work, search for his plunderphonics pieces as a start. He’s easily found at Google and Youtube. For me, plunderphonics goes beyond remix or remake of a song. Have a listen.

PSS: John was great, but I also met other inspiring composers in that workshop. Expect  separate posts about Yves Daoust and Ake Parmerud in the future.