Friday, March 23, 2012

New Music Tells the Story of Old Brooklyn

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 8:58 AM

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How did you decide what texts you wanted to work with?
I have a writing partner, Royce Vavrek of Bushwick, with whom I primarily collaborate. We’ve written a number of pieces together, and are currently working on our first full-length opera—called Dog Days—which will premiere this coming fall. In AM I BORN, we had initially set out to write a much more straightforward work—with a linear narrative—but as I started sketching, I started to think that that was the wrong approach. Since we work together a lot, we trust each other’s instincts, and Royce was very open to allowing me to sort of rearrange and overlap his texts—almost like Burroughs’ cut-ups, in a way—so that we could create a strong sense of ideas and lives existing concurrently across different times. So what results in the final version is a text that was written by Royce and organized collaboratively by both of us. There are also a few relevant quotes from Francis Guy—an inscription from the painting itself—and excerpts from an essay by Walt Whitman, in which he discusses the painting. So, between the four of us we had a solid collaborative team!

Do you think of yourself as a "Brooklyn composer"? That is, do you feel a strong connection between your music and where you work and play?
I think what’s being understood now as the “Brooklyn scene” grew out of a need to be honest with ourselves creatively. There was a sense for many of us going through music school that there was a “right way” and a “wrong way” to be a composer. And as a bunch of us started putting shows together and starting ensembles back in 2003 or so, we started to realize that that was nonsense—that really, we could do what we wanted, be who we wanted to be as artists, and be our own audiences. It’s nothing new, really—in a way it’s no different than what the Beats were doing in San Francisco in the 50s—but like in the 50s, we ended up with a collection of like-minded people who wanted to make work they believed in for each other to enjoy. This work cross-pollinated, and started to be seen as something new. It gave rise to a local scene, and a record label, and as we all started putting out records, the scene started to take wing and fly. But it all began with a DIY spirit.

For those unfamiliar with it, what's the new music scene in Brooklyn like right now?
The most amazing thing about new music in New York is how diverse it is. Last week, my ensemble Newspeak co-hosted the New Music Bake Sale at Roulette. It was amazing to see all the people who came out. Young brand new groups like Hotel Elefant, more-established groups like Gutbucket, and everything in between. Again, it’s the DIY spirit. People just say, "I’m going to start this group and we’re going to play music we believe in," and they do it. And because they’re here, there are a ton of people who (a) have also done this, (b) want to be part of it, and (c) want to help this new group succeed. That what makes the scene so special: that all the groups who came before us—and this extends all the way back to the beginnings of MATA, and before it, Bang on a Can—say: “Awesome! The more the merrier. Let us know if we can help,” or “Let’s do a show together.” It’s a community in the clearest sense of the word. How could it do anything but thrive under these circumstances?

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

The Brooklyn Philharmonic will perform "Brooklyn Village" at Roulette on Saturday and Sunday evenings. More info here.

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