PART I - April 22, 2016
Travis Just: hi!
Jessie Marino: like this?
TJ: yeah! so.......Prince.
JM: I KNOW. Man.
TJ: hard to think about anything else today.
JM: Its been populating the feeds
JM: but its also kind of interesting because his work has been so carefully protected on the internet, so there is only a handful of videos that people can post. and its like the muppets
TJ: i love that aspect.
JM: me too
TJ: i think there is something important in it. an understanding of what a musical (or performative) experience should be. and that it is least-well served by a video snippet on a social media feed.
JM: yes- but - there is also this preservation of mystique, the identity is so so so carefully constructed, that even with the muppets he's Princing all over the place - talking about starfish and coffee
TJ: i don’t see it as controlling or calculating though, almost the opposite.
JM: how so?
TJ: there is something freeing about there being an absence of social media (and the like) content. and since he was constantly shifting and contradicting his musical output (or his image, sexuality, etc) i see it as a chaotic and rich multiplicity rather than a sculpted Product. like, wouldn’t you want to goof around with muppets? i think that’s cooler than a twitter beef with some other pop star.
JM: oh absolutely - that shit is dreadful. and I am very jealous of Prince's ability to have a complete lack of mediated presence (besides the one that the artist puts forward). but that is not an option for most anymore - you have to be a Prince or a McCartney or a LeBron to get away with that. its not really even an option for second tier famous people
TJ: yes. like those articles that talk about Adele or Taylor Swift not having their music on Spotify or Radiohead releasing their music for free. the New Musical Economy! of course those people are insanely rich and famous enough so that it is irrelevant for the rest of us.
JM: but we love a good story about celebrity
TJ: i remember at music school everyone would talk about this aesthetic thing or the other, have this stance or another and on and on. but the one time tempers REALLY flared was when a professor brought up the Beach Boys in class. people took sides with knives out. popular culture is powerful
JM: what were the sides?
TJ: pro and con. i think i was con at the time but i’m more of a qualified pro now.
JM: ha! have to say thought that I really can't stand a lot of the academic shit that gets pasted onto the top of popular culture phenomena. just more old white guys who think they know more about Beyoncé than she does. its very tiresome
TJ: yeah, or they know more than some kid banging it out of her car speakers does. i would rather hear a teenager talk about the music than some writer for the New Yorker.
i find it difficult to separate the money and reach of popular music+culture from the actual artwork at the end of the day. particularly as we have engaged with it now and then on the fringes of our own practice
JM: hmm - I think I have less of a problem with that because it is so ubiquitous within popular music - its just a different system entirely - also the art world - we are not playing in the same game, not even in the same fucking park -- I guess it is harder to know when someone is taking a risk though
TJ: that is a good parallel, with the art world. both have the potential for actual money and fame. there are those composers etc who then actually cross over into that world, redefine themselves as presenting in museums and galleries or on a much much broader distribution level. do you think that is a conscious line to cross or to identify?
JM: I suppose it depends on the person. I think Nam Jun Paik and Philip Glass probably had different motivations. Paik going back to a visual arts upbringing and Glass just trying to find ways to stay relevant without having to change
TJ: yeah and it is pretty subjective on a basic level. i suppose we shouldn’t begrudge people their successes.
JM: no way - I'd love to be fuckin famous!!!
TJ: ha, at what cost?
JM: talk about freedom fantasies. I know as soon as you start thinking about the realities of it - there is actually very little freedom
TJ: we did this panel in Norway and this one curator dude was all “you could not do such things at a real opera house” to Kara and me. and i’m sitting there thinking, give us the fucking chance!
JM: I wonder why institutions like that are still afraid of waking up?
TJ: i don’t think they are as a rule. there are interesting institutions and boring ones, just like composers and artists. there is no systemic reason why institutions couldn’t support radical work. and sometimes, of course, they do.
JM: would you want to do something at a "real opera house"
TJ: sure why not?
TJ: they would have to want to do what we do, which is doubtful. i’m not going to suddenly write a different kind of music.
JM: there is some tie in here with the lack of Prince on Social media - I"m just not finding the right words for it
TJ: but why not? Cecil Taylor is at the Whitney. he washed dishes in the mid-60s.
JM: yes but a piano is not a concert hall. and pianos have been going into galleries for decades
TJ: true. i mean (not to talk about school), but it isn’t so long ago that it would be inconceivable for you to make the kind of work you do at Stanford.
JM: for sure - its still weird
TJ: though i imagine you were very much the outlier.
JM: they think they are embracing the "outsider" and that seems very cool and fashionable and open minded to them. but they have absolutely no way to talk to me about my work. they try to talk about it in these terms that have zero application. and a number of my colleagues here are being seen in a similar light. but this is mostly a direct mechanism of transitioning out of being a school devoted to New Complexity
TJ: where have you found the most success (meaning personal artistic measure) presenting your work?
JM: the festivals. that is just such a dream for me
TJ: there are some composers doing this kind of performativity thing that absolutely need to do it for a die-hard music audience. but your work (while it can work there) seems more open to the world vis a vis audience.
JM: yeah, its been interesting to see how the recent work has been having this undertone of pushing agains the academic musical institution - I had proper training as a performer aka cellist which I fought against for a while by doing all of the body movement object dance stuff with Natacha – and since coming into contact with "Academia" I think I've been kind of in a teenager-ish sort of way try to yell at that institution through making these bonkers pieces. but I'm trying to calm down about all of that (or maybe I just don't care as much about shoving it in their faces because I'm moving away from it). the last piece I made was all about Beethoven and in a very loving way
TJ: i don’t want to be too obvious here, but i’m interested in your composer Origin Story. where/when/how does the studying cello fit in with the table-top wigs+objects performances? is there a lineage from one to the other? a break?
JM: Berlin! I went there right after school and basically sat in an apartment getting stoned and eating hallumi sandwiches for two years. it was great. and whenever I had creative impulses it was never to go and play the cello. I got to know Carolyn Chen's music. and the Pamplemousser's always were encouraging everyone in the group to write
TJ: but did you go from Xenakis to Bruce Nauman as the flip of a switch? that other stuff must have been percolating somehow, somewhere. [xenakis as a stand in for…you know…that sort of thing…]
JM: sure! I think it was more of a result of being near the HAU and the UDK which at the time was quite focused on this thing that they are calling "Experimental Music Theater" -- I saw some productions first by Aperghis, then Goebbels, and then was on a bus being driven around to different stops off of the Autobahn where there were dudes in turtle costumes giving out apples and making you walk along stretches of highway. the fact that those things could be music was really exciting -- and I didn't really care if it was speaking to a music audience or a theater audience or a performance art audience. it was there for people to experience and talk about. but this was also Berlin - not New York - and Berlin in the early 2000’s
TJ: while i was embedded (and am still) in the gaff-tape and dodgy-electricity underground theater world here in nyc
TJ: what is your relationship now to your cello playing and those ways of making work? certainly you are a fabulous cellist, something not to be taken lightly!
JM: the classic line now is "I have a cello". I really don't play except in Pamplemousse and in the context of that group the rest of the guys are writing music they know that I can do
TJ: but it is difficult to maintain a high level of instrumental performance with the composing process, i find at least. (“i have saxophones and clarinets”.)
JM: absolutely. its just not the primary thing anymore
TJ: you know, this is something that i have been thinking about a lot. particularly now in relation to Prince. the idea of music production as a life activity, not a project-based one. in his case, he just made music all the time…all these fully-realized things in the studio, stuff put out in ersatz fashion here and there. not just: here is an album, here is the tour, here is the video.
in relation to our systems of making work, i am pretty bored with the project-based thing. i miss rehearsal, i miss performing all the time.
JM: fuck yes me too. Pamplemousse is all spread out around the country now with some of us west coast and some of us east coast - they way we've been dealing with it is by having these rehearsal retreats where we all pile into Natacha and Bryan's house and we practice/rehearse/build/change shit all day for like 5 or 6 days - it is immensely satisfying - by the end we are playing our asses off and we have the opportunity to bring sketches of pieces or just ideas or fully formed things that can then get fucked around with. thats really the only reason why I want to be fucking famous -- if I could have that be my life, I would be ecstatic
TJ: schedules get difficult. kids, jobs and so forth. and then of course you want to give people money for their time.
JM: I've also been thinking a lot about doing way more workshop performances -- things are always polished but I want to start performing things that are in the middle of development
TJ: you guys as an ensemble, a sort of collective, can ease that a bit. you have a posse, a gang, which is good. as a solo composer or someone looking for performers, the situation gets more challenging
JM: I think its necessary if you want to be able to experiment. to have your peeps
TJ: also, it is easy to take that for granted.
JM: well group dynamics are always a challenge!
TJ: like in sports, a successful team that makes it to the NBA Finals but doesn’t win…they always think, well, we’ll be back next year and be competitive for the next 5 years. but circumstances are hard to re-create. if you have a productive group of collaborators, that is precious
JM: right - which is why I think its import to have the people there - the situation will always be changing -- and people do too -- but I would much rather write music for Dave Broome, than for Piano
TJ: even more so for your work which calls upon much more than just piano technique. you need that weirdo there who will do all the other stuff, and bring the presence you are counting upon.
JM: yes -- I mean, the person has to be important. I’ve lost interest in the virtuoso
TJ: i think about the Robert Ashley operas and the ensemble. they are very much tied up in the personality, and even the individual sound of those four vocalists. transplanting them is difficult. but of course then those dudes in Varispeed went and did it and that worked well too. but they did a pretty audacious re-imagining.
how much do you think about other performers doing your work beyond yourself and Pamplemousse? do you build that into the scores or your expectations?
JM: well the person is a very big thread is a lot of the American Experimental music thought - I mean the performance practice that Cage and Alvin and all those guys developed was based on them also performing it
TJ: I’ve always found it surprising the deference people show to the personalities of the composers. 4’33 says in the score that it can actually be ANY duration, though I’ve never seen a performance that wasn’t 4 minutes and 33 seconds. and “I am sitting in a room” can actually be ANY text according to the score, but i’ve never heard anyone say anything but Alvin’s text from the recording.
JM: its true that 4'33 can be any duration - but by the same token Cage was terribly picky about the kinds of sounds that could be in something like Atlas Eclipticalis. I have been working with other people now, its kind of a recent development and I don't think I've found the right way of doing it -- when I can't be there and someone is interpreting the score I usually have them send me a video and we have a kind of "coaching" together (but I find this to be a very traditional method which gets the composer-performer relationship into old and trodden territory) -- I'm trying to figure out ways of building in enough room for the human to be present - but I'm also picky about the stereotypes
TJ: stereotypes in what sense? as a directorial meaning?
JM: i mean in the types of characters that get let into the piece -- sorry this was kind of a jump -- Mostly I mean that I picky about the material that goes in-- and when musical performers are asked to do things outside of instrumental playing there can be a slippery slope of bad shit that gets let in because people suddenly think that everything can be let in
conducted over internet chat - April 22, 2016