At the University of Maryland, there's an annual event called Maryland Day, where students and faculty showcase their research for each other as well as the surrounding community through lectures, demonstrations, concerts, open houses, etc. We, a ragtag group of music graduate assistants, decided we would use this as an opportunity to bring to life the music we had only read about—FLUXUS (James Tenney, Alison Knowles, George Brecht et al) and the New York School (e.g. Cage, Wolff, Brown et al). When it was all said and done, we had blown one of our studio speakers and forged a life-long bond and commitment to performing on the fringe.
What does your creative process look like as a group?
In addition to distinct personalities, each member of our collective has their own compositional/improvisational/performative style. Given that most conservatory-minded performers are interested in conquering European musical notation rather than contemplating the challenges posed by the experimental traditions we loved, we found it more productive to write for each other. So we started tailoring works to the unique personalities and styles within our cohort and ended up creating a body of work that is tailored to our ensemble. Each piece, while usually conceived by one composer, has its roots and is then honed—through rehearsal and performance—by the specific characteristics, interests, quirks of individuals within the collective.
What did your Studio Z performance look like 11 years ago?
Back in 2009, we had shifted from performing the likes of Cage and Tenney to focusing solely on those works tailored to our ensemble. The program we presented was thus very inwardly focused. It was a time of intense collaboration. With an "Us against the World" spirit we saw ourselves as offering a very personalized alternative to contemporary neo-whathaveyou trends.
How has the group evolved since then?
Our approach, while still experimentally-focused, has become more inclusive. Our quasi-combative mindset has morphed into something more embracing and outward looking. Rather than just using performance opportunities to showcase our own work and experimental works from the 1950's-1970's, we have sought out contemporary composers like Agostino DiScipio and Abby Aresty whose works resonate with our own. With each new piece we add to our repertoire, the more we grow as composers, performers, and listeners.
Tell us about the premieres you will be presenting.
The Sixth is a world premiere. Since leaving University of Maryland, Stephen Lilly has been nursing the delusion that he might be a poet in addition to being a composer. The composing-urge is strong with him, however, so with every poem he writes, he creates a composed-out quasi-musical version. The Sixth started as a found-poem about his sixth year as a husband, using for the developmental milestones of a six-year-old child as an over-extended metaphor. The musical version is a duet that quite literally reads between the lines. The end result is both intensely personal and oddly universal.
Several of the works are world premieres of revised versions of pieces, one is a U.S. premiere, and most are MN premieres. For example, Kristian Twombly created a multi-channel version of Interplait for this performance. The work started with recordings of famous lectures on mindfulness and a singing bowl (Meditation, which is also on the program) and has evolved into a work including voice which folds in upon itself. Prerecorded and live elements feed off of and influence each other in a living feedback circle that outwardly demonstrates some of these beneficial mindfulness properties.
Anything else you would like to add?
In recent years, one of our shared interests is meditation. We have become fascinated by the calming, introspective, healing, and sympathetic properties of this practice, and we’ve framed the program around mindful listening for us and the audience. Starting with one of Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations and continuing through the entire program, we hope to explore a variety of perspectives on meditation and listening – a phenomenological approach, if you will. And like John Cage, we prefer laughter to tears and have included a bit of whimsy and humor in the program as well – keep your eyes peeled for a bunny!