Tuesday, October 20, 2009

3 x 5 Interview with Brian Vlasak

In Fives:

1) In exactly five sentences, give us what you feel is important biographical information about your musical/sonic background.

I was raised surrounded by the serene and sometimes austere natural environment that is upstate New York. This peaceful location stood in direct contrast to the turmoil caused by everyday life and the dichotomy that exists served as a “perfect storm” for the formation of my unique aesthetic goals. It was the formal education that I received at The Crane School of Music that allowed me to open up my musical tastes to the 20th-century because of the rigorous listening and score study requirements that my principal composition teacher enacted upon me. The tastes and understandings learned in my undergraduate schooling were complimented, augmented, and refined at the University of Iowa’s School of Music in such a way that it allowed me to develop a highly-developed sense of aesthetic goal. Since graduating with my Ph.D. in 2007, I have spent a great deal of time formulating and codifying a philosophical stance and writing music to explore the arguments laid out in this forthcoming treatise.

2) Please state, in exactly five words, your interest in music/sound.

Pure intellectual and emotional stimulation.

3) Now please state, in exactly five syllables, how you might describe your process of work.

Precise construction.

In Fours:

1) Using the rhythm of the famous four-note opening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony please tell us a fact about you that we may not know.

Not a big fan, Beethoven’s Fifth.

2) Who are four people that have influenced your musical tastes?

David Heinick -- Webern, Bartok, Glass, Reich, Crumb; David Gompper -- Robert HP Platz, Feldman, the Burgundian school; Ketty Nez -- Stockhausen, Saariaho; John C. Griffin -- Joplin, Korngold.

3) Name your preference: The Fab Four, The Four Tops or Four-on-the-floor music?

The Four Tops -- NEVER understood the appeal of the Beatles: they need haircuts to match those suits.

In Threes:

1) Name three artists (composers, popular music, etc.) that make you feel all warm and squishy inside.

Anton Webern, Robert HP Platz, and Depeche Mode

2) Name three artists that make you want to wretch.

John Adams, Alberto Ginestera, and American Idol (...while I recognize that American Idol is, indeed, not an artist, I view it as creating an archetype of drivel that I just cannot stand)

3) Address either three of your listed artists (in either category) with one question each or three questions to one artist. For example: "Dear Mr. Bach, how do you have such magnificent counterpoint?"

a. Dear Dr. Webern, how were you able to hear such crystalline, unique, and pristine sounds in your head during a time of blind nationalism and traumatic upheaval?

b. Members of Depeche Mode, how do you view your music’s perceived relevance now as opposed to twenty-five years ago? As a follow up, do you believe that the music written two-and-a-half decades ago sounds dated at all in terms of sound or message and do you see that status changing anytime soon? Why or why not?

c. Dear John Adams, why do you allow yourself to be called a post-minimalist when it appears that the whole reason you repeat patterns is not because of an overarching philosophy of non-linear, vertical time, but because you wish to use common triadic sonorities that function in a quasi-common practice fashion?

In Twos:

1) List and describe two projects in progress.

a. [untitled work] for clarinet and alto saxophone. This work is the second of five pieces to be included in my first “meta-work” wherein several pieces are to be linked together and played through back-to-back without interruption. This particular meta-work is an extended meditation on the nature of death in different societies throughout the world and the progression of the five pieces reflects the progression of time through the night. In this, the second work, the death poem of the 18thcentury monk Kyoshu serves both as the inspiration and formal underpinning upon which it is based.

b. “Violin Concerto” (title pending) for solo violin, flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, viola, and violoncello. This “micro-concerto” was commissioned by Iowa City violinist Nikki Gnatek for performance in the fall of 2010. It is in the planning stages now, but should be around 15 minutes in length and in one movement.

2) And how are they both going?

The [untitled work] still needs a title, final tweaking, and entry into Finale, but the actual composition is complete. The “Violin Concerto” is in the planning stages now.

3) How do you feel they are challenging your current skill set?

My duet really stretched my aesthetic philosophy to the limit in that I wanted to write a piece that was rhythmically active -- without a consistent pulse -- and did not spend a great deal of time ruminating over one sustained sound and how different interactions with that same sound would change the perception of it. As for the Concerto, this pick up from where I left off with the duet and add to the challenge to my aesthetic views by forcing me to develop an extended piece over an extended period of time without interruption. I’m a big “sectionalizer”, so I foresee the idea of a one-movement-work as being particularly challenging to me; however, as David Heinick taught me, if one were to grow complacent in one’s compositional goals and aims, we as composers would cease to strive for anything more than what we are comfortable with.

In Ones:

1) Name one environmental element of the creative process that you find essential (e.g. coffee, a certain chair, etc.)

Last year I purchased an Amish-made writing desk and matching chair that serves as nothing more than my writing space. I have found that having that one particular spot in which to compose fosters creativity, because it is simply not meant for anything else; let’s think of it as a “safe-place”. In addition to that, I must have my small, black Moleskin writing journal in which to work out formal and pitch relationships and my colored pencils with which to help me maintain order with my pitch-collection choices.

2) What is one area in which you hope to improve your work?

To become more spontaneous! All too often, I find that I have written myself into a corner and have to erase days worth of work simply because I refused to think beyond constructing an object with specific rules associated with it; that error, of course, not only wastes valuable time, but also can be quite discouraging.

3) What is one thing you would like people to know when listening to your work?

Listen with an open mind. Know that when I approach a work it is to explore a certain sound and that how we perceive that sound changes with every small utterance of something around it; I suppose this is the influence that Glass, Reich, and Feldman have had on me. I am absolutely fascinated with the idea one’s concept of the linear progression of time “getting lost in the music” and wish to impart that same fascination upon the audience. Indeed, it is only when we slow down our thought process that we are not only able to truly begin to understand the nature of sound and how it changes over time, but also tune out all that is around us and work towards a sense of peace and tranquility that is often lacking from our lives. Perhaps this is the ultimate goal of Western art music: to allow us to forget, even for just a moment, all of the horror and pedantry of everyday life and replace it with the pure experience that is exercising our intellect and feeling with our heart simultaneously.

1 comment:

  1. How is it that he wants to instill in audiences an open mind and some Kantian sense of "getting lost in the music" but then comes at John Adams with some anachronistic garbage about how tonality's dead, etc., get with the program and end the teleology already?

    And extolling the virtues of the Nazi-sympathizer (worse, post-1942, Nazi ENTHUSIAST) Webern for his abilities to whitewash his own nationalism when it comes to music? Kind of sickening to see such knee-jerk hero-worship that I haven't seen since the Webern cult started growing on campuses in the 60s. Webern's okay, but even then if you paid close enough attention we could tell the great lengths his cultish followers were going to to try to ignore the Nazi taint to his music.