Columbia Tribune Art Axis Blog and Mizzou New Music Summer Festival Guest Composer Anna Clyne on the Future of Music
Anna Clyne and the future of music
Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:24 p.m.
After seeing a transcendent live performance from a young and as yet unknown singer-songwriter, rock critic Jon Landau put pen to paper in 1974 andwrote, “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
Upon hearing the music of Anna Clyne, enthusiasts in a variety of camps – those who identify themselves among the classical, new music and electronic and traditions – might well be able to say they have seen the future of music itself.
Born in 1980, Clyne has already compiled an artistic resume that would make even the most seasoned composer do a double take. She has enjoyed commissions from Carnegie Hall and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had her work programmed by artists the caliber of Björk, Martin Scorsese and Alex Ross and contributed to a number of exciting collaborations with artists in a variety of mediums, from dance to visual art and film.
Her work both sounds remarkable and signifies a dynamic new direction in which music and other mediums are connected at an almost cellular level. Clyne is one of two guest composers at the second Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, which begins today. She and Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Reynolds will interact with eight resident composers, including MU graduate student Patrick David Clark, lending guidance and wisdom to their pursuits. Clyne’s own music will be performed throughout the festival as well. She recently engaged in an email exchange with the Tribune, discussing the remarkable arc of her career and the arc of art music today.
Tribune: You have received many accolades and accomplished a great deal, yet you’ve just entered your thirties. To what to do you attribute the recognition you’ve garnered to date? What has been the most satisfying experience of your career thus far?
Clyne: I feel extremely fortunate to have had so many wonderful opportunities as a young composer. I hope that the recognition I have gained to date stems from my hard work and a musical language that speaks with real emotion. Moving to New York with a bag and a cello when I was 21 was a risk, being from a very modest background. I worked as a waitress, cleaner, florist, freelance cellist, teacher – often several at the same time – to make ends meet. There was no back-up option, which gave me a real sense of drive to make the most of this vibrant city and the opportunities it offers.
Though tough at times, New York was the perfect playground to make these explorations and to meet some incredibnly inspiring musicians and artists. The most moving experience in my career so far was hearingEsa-Pekka Salonen premiere “Within Her Arms” with 15 strings from the LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall in April 2009. He captured the essence of the music from the core, and led a performance that will stay in my memory forever.
Tribune: Who are some of the composers – and/or artists in other mediums – with whom you feel the most creative/stylistic kinship? Are there people or movements which have influenced your sound that might not be discernable upon a first or even second listen?
Clyne: My music has many influences, including my teachers Marina Admia, at Edinburgh University, Julia Wolfe and Nils Vigeland at Manhattan School of Music. I am also often inspired by artists from other fields within the arts – examples include choreographer Kitty McNamee of Hysterica Dance Company; visual artist Joshue Ott with his custom live drawing software, superDraw; and painter Josh Dorman who created exquisite paintings with collage, drawing and painting. When I start a piece, it often has a visual image or a sense of movement, so collaborating with artists who specialize in these forms of expression can be really exciting and inspiring.
I’m not from a musical family, and I didn’t grow up around classical music. As a child, my parents’ LP collection ranged from Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Lou Reed, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan to Chilean folk music from the ’70s and ’80s. When I was 7, family friends gave us a piano with randomly missing keys. My mother, then a midwife, was nursing for a lady whose husband, David, taught piano. I took lessons, and as I began to play, I simultaneously began to compose – my first piece being a little piano solo “The Sea.” Composition has always been a great love of mine – a chance to escape into an imaginary world. It wasn’t until I was 20, however, that I had my first formal composition lessons at Queen’s University in Canada. I sometimes wonder whether the freedom of a non-musically-inclined household, and a late start with formal training, provided an open canvas in which to explore sound for myself, with no preconceptions or pressures.
Tribune: Your artistic statement speaks clearly of the need to dialogue, of your intent to complement and interact with other art forms and artists. When did this desire emerge and begin to shape your purpose as a composer? What are some of the more memorable or significant artistic lessons you’ve learned from fellow collaborators?
Clyne: At Edinburgh University, where I received my Bachelor of Music degree, I became friends with a lot of artists outside of the music department – including students at the Edinburgh College of Art, which was close to the music building. My first collaboration was with a visual artist, Joshua Bryan, who created a short 6-minute film – “Approach” – which I scored for metronome, instrumental trio and electronics. Next was a score for a theatrical adaptaion of Oscar Wilde’s “Fairy Stories” for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2002, which included music for dance, song and underscoring. With this I was hooked on collaborating with other arts/artists.
Tribune: In this same spirit of collaboration and give-and-take, what do you hope to impart as you work with emerging composers at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, and what do you hope to glean for yourself? If you had only five or ten minutes in a room with another composer, what sorts of questions would you ask or ideas would you introduce so that you might mutually benefit?
Clyne: I am very much looking forward to getting to know the Fellows and their music at this year’s Mizzou New Music Summer Festival. I hope to listen as carefully as possible to their music and questions and to give as much feedback as possible. I hope that our discussions will include a range of topics, from analysis and the use of technology to life as a composer. Leaving school and mentorship is a challenging transition. In many ways, one has to become one’s own teacher – questioning musical decisions in the process of writing, and finding a critical eye for yourself. I hope that I can offer some form of perspective on this and will feel rewarded if this happens! I thoroughly enjoy teaching composition. In New York, I directed the New York Youth Symphony’s award-winning young composers’ program, Making Score, with students ranging from 11-20. Here in Chicago, I have a private studio and also teach workshops for local young composers and incarcerated youth at a nearby juvenile detention center – all very different contexts, and all with their own challenges.
Tribune: Give local audiences a bit of context for the works you will be presenting at next week’s festival. What experiences informed those works? Do you have any expectations or desires whatsoever for how an audience might interact with them?
Clyne: I feel extremely honored that Alarm Will Sound will perform “BLUSH” and that students from the University of Missouri will perform “steelworks” and “rapture.”
BLUSH (baritone, laptop, instrumental ensemble – 2007) was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the Profesional Training Workshop with Dawn Upshaw and Osvaldo Golijov. Alan Pierson conducted the premiere. The work is strictly notated, other than the laptop part which is more freely notated with a series of instructions. For this performance we are trying something new with the piece – 4 additional musicians/instruments have been added to the mix and will be improvising from the laptop and vocal score. I love that Alarm Will Sound are open to trying to this and look forward to hearing the results!
“steelworks” (flute/piccolo, bass clarinet, percussion, tape and film – 2006) was commissioned by TACTUS, the contemporary music ensemble at Manhattan School of Music, in 2005 and premiered at Greenfield Hall in New York City, 2006. A film was created for the work by visual artist Luke DuBois. The tape part incorporates recordings of interviews with employees and machinery at Flame Cut Steelworks, the last steelworks factory in Brooklyn, which later relocated from its Williamsburg location. These recordings became the kernel for the music. “steelworks” was choreographed by Matthew Neenan and premiered with his company, BalletX, at Wilma Theater, Philadelphia in 2008. Subsequent performances include musicians from the Chicago Symphony Concert at MusicNOW, and in New York City at Cornelia Street Cafe and NewMusicMannes at the Mannes School of Music, with performances further afield by Sentieri Selvaggi in Italy, and Psappha in the UK. This performance will include the film made by Luke.
“rapture” [clarinet with effects & tape – 2005] was composed for Australian clarinetist Eileen Mack and was premiered at Symphony Space in New York City, 2005, with live visuals created by Joshue Ott and his custom program, superDraw. Other performances in the U.S. include the Bang on a Can Marathon, New York; The Stone, New York; f(x) Music Marathon, Miami; Poncho Concert Hall, Seattle and recent European performances in Croatia, Denmark, Latvia and Poland. This performance will include a pre-recorded version of the live visuals by Joshue Ott/superDraw. This piece is very intense … I wonder how the audience will respond …
Both “steelworks” and “rapture” are very challenging technically, and I am thrilled that the students have undertaken these works.
Tribune: You are someone on the vanguard of an area that has been called new music, art music, classical music (as well as a variety of other designations). You also have an entire career ahead of you. What direction do you see art music going and how do you believe your work can play a part in that trajectory?
Clyne: It’s a very exciting time to be a composer. Boundaries between different musical genres have been smashed open and technology has revolutionized music making – from notation programs to wild electronics. I hope to expand my work through working with experts in a wider array of fields – I have a wonderful friend, Elizabeth Tasker, an excellent astrophysicist who specializes in theoretical galaxy formations. Despite the disparate nature of our fields, we both utilize electronics extensively in our work and we face many of the same challenges. It would be great to work on a new work together – perhaps coupling her images and code with music. It seems that the various art mediums are becoming increasingly combined in such a way that classifications become less obvious. For example, live visualists can create an additional “instrument” to the ensemble.
An example that springs to mind is “TENDER HOOKS,” a double laptop concerto that was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2008. This piece was scored for orchestra and live visuals (laptop 1) and live electronics (laptop 2), performed by Joshue Ott and Jeremy Flower, respectively. In this piece, both laptops were used as instruments – and each with a carefully detailed part within the score. It was also an experiment in making an organic relationship between the three elements – we hooked up a whole bunch of cables and triggers (such as theremins and foot pedals) to transfer data between the three, so at any given moment one would be influencing the other. Experimentation in new sound worlds is going to be a fascinating development into the future.
Anna Clyne’s “rapture” will be performed 8 p.m. Tuesday night at Whitmore Recital Hall, on the University of Missouri campus, as part of “Another World’s Rapture Remix: An Electroacoustic Chamber Recital.” “BLUSH” will be performed Thursday on the program “Seasons with Alarm Will Sound and Susan Narucki”; the concert takes place at 7 p.m. at Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. “steelworks” will be performed 7 p.m. Friday at the Missouri Theatre during “Mizzou’s Right to Bear New Music.” All concerts are $10 for adults, $5 for students.
Additionally, Clyne will give a presentation at 7 tonight in the Fine Arts Building, room 145, on the MU campus. That event is free and open to the public. For a full Mizzou New Music Summer Festival schedule, go here. Photo credit: Courtesy Mizzou New Music Summer Festival.