May 18, 2013
TRANSIT’s third ComposerView is with composer and cellist Pat Muchmore.
ComposerViews (CV): Hi, Pat! Thank you for sitting down and having a chat with us! This is the third installment in our ComposerViews series, where we get to sit down talk about where our favorite composers find their ideas. TRANSIT first worked with you in 2011 when we performed your piece, Palimpsest Zeta, which we will perform again in our DoubleBill Festival this weekend. What was your inspiration for the piece?
Pat Muchmore (PM): Mostly writing a piece for you guys. Not to kiss ass, but I mostly write things I know I can play, or things that can be thrown together in an easy rehearsal. But instead I had Andie Springer, David Friend, Joe Bergen, Sara Budde, and Evelyn Farny, and we were going to kill the piece, so I went ahead and took the training wheels off and just wrote what I had in my head.
CV: We’re very flattered. Thank you!
[PM pauses to order a Black IPA, upon interviewer Andie Springer’s recommendation.]
CV: We know you not only as a composer, but as a cellist in Anti-Social Music, along with other groups. How and when did you begin composing, and how do you balance playing with composing?
PM: I began composing in my freshman year of college. It came about because I found out I wasn’t going to be a professional cellist. I had too much pain—I couldn’t play for more than a half-hour a day—and you’re supposed to practice more than that. But I so badly wanted to be involved in music, and my advisor suggested composition. I decided to try it, and I really, really, really liked it. But I think that’s why I still think of it as part and parcel of the performance. I’m not a good cellist, and I’m not a good composer, really, but I write things for what I can do on the cello. Because I know it so intimately, I think I find new things to do on the cello. For the most part, I perform because I’m playing a piece that I wrote, and I write because I have a chance to play it. I would like to find more of a composition-heavy balance, but that’s the only way I feel I can get my music out there. So I feel forced to tie those two things together.
CV: Not if we have anything to say about it! How do you feel your compositional style is shaped by living in New York City?
PM: I think it was New York that brought out the genre-clashing fragmented pieces that I write. I know I’m not original to that, but I came by it honestly. My music was looking for Neo-romantic stories about heroes winning against all odds, which is very different from what I write now. It’s going to sound like New York made my music angry and unhappy, and I don’t think that’s the case. I think it brought out tension that was needed in my music. Being able to walk from the subway and hear jazz cats playing something, and a violinist playing some Bach, and have the Pixies on my headphones–hearing all these things clash is invigorating.
CV: We loved your recent Opinionator article in New York Times. TRANSIT performed Will Redman’s “Book,” a beautiful graphic score, in the same concert in 2011 in which we premiered your piece. How many of your compositions are written in graphic score?
PM: I don’t have a precise number, but it’s gotta be 20%. Actually, your piece has graphic elements. It didn’t when I gave it to you, because I hadn’t rendered it, but it does have parts in Gregorian chant, and parts that are written in circles. [*See below for more on Pat’s Palimpsest series.]
CV: Interesting! What have you been listening to lately?
PM: Gloria Coates. Holy shit! She’s amazing. She’s in her 70’s or 80’s. She’s American, but has lived most of her life in Germany. She writes especially for strings. It’s reductive to say that it’s all about glissandos, but the glissando is a present force. One movement of her 7th symphony is just one high glissando and one low glissando that approach each other across the course of ten minutes. Creepy and awesome.
PM: The first movement of her first symphony sounds like a funeral march for a Uruk-hai Orc from the Lord of the Rings. It’s this evil, plodding thing that glissandos eventually infect and take over. I can’t get enough of her music. Symphonies, string quartets…she’s amazing.
CV: Wow! Thanks for the tip!
PM: Finally, what projects or performances do you have coming up?
PM: My biggest upcoming project is for Music with a View at the Flea Theater on June 25th. I’m performing a piece for solo cello with electronics. I’ll be playing piano and cello at various points in the piece. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, exactly, but something cool, hopefully!
CV: Excellent! We’ll be performing on that series on the 22nd, so we will be sure to come hear you on the 25th! Thanks so much for speaking with us, Pat!
*From Pat about Palimpsest Zeta:
|D@L!/\/\P$3S7 ζ can be read as Palimpsest Zeta. The first movement title is actually that complicated set of characters like on your music, but it transliterates as I. BABEL (the first character is a Ukrainian B, the second character is an Ancient Macedonian A, the third character is a Devanagari B, the fourth is Ancient Ogham E and the last is a Ge’ez L. Exact same thing for the second movement except the word being spelled is II. SHESHACH.
The story, and the reason behind all the languages, is the Tower of Babel story, wherein God supposedly afflicted mankind with hundreds of languages as punishment for our hubris. Each movement is conceived as a separate member of my BABEL series, and there’s a similar page with info on those at http://patmuchmore.com/BABEL.shtml.
You can read more about Pat’s Palimpsest series on his website: http://patmuchmore.com/Palimpsest.shtml