Contemporary music series BBC Radio 3 Open Ear continues at LSO St Luke's on Saturday 11 November. Ahead of the concert, Riot Ensemble director Aaron Holloway-Nahum spoke to composer Clara Iannotta about her piece for musicians and music box machine The People Here Go Mad. They Blame the Wind.
(Aaron) Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us, Clara! We are incredibly excited to be performing The People Here Go Mad. They Blame the Wind. for Clarinet, Piano, Cello and Music Box Machine. Where does the title come from, and does it give the audience a hint as to what they can expect from the piece?
(Clara) First of all, it is my pleasure to be working with the musicians of the Riot Ensemble. Thank you so much for inviting me! As I wrote in my program note, in 2012 I was walking alone through Somerville (Boston, MA), on a sunny, quiet day. The wind blew strongly for just a moment, and when it stopped, it left in the air a clanging harmony. It took me a few seconds to understand that this sound was made by metal chimes hanging from several doors. It made me smile!
After a few months, when I was starting to compose this piece, I was reading a poem by Dorothy Molloy. She kept repeating 'The people here go mad. They blame the wind.' and it made me remember that day, that sound. So I decided to write it down.
One of the things I think it’s fair to say is fairly regular in your music is a mixture of acoustic instruments and machines/non-conventional instruments (such as the music box machine here…, and some lightsabers in your new string quartet!). Could you tell us a bit about these unusual machine-instruments, and what they bring to your music?
My father taught me, as a child, how to build things from scratch, using only the everyday objects that surrounded me. We used to make toys out of wires, broken computers, empty shoe boxes, plastic bags, etc. I learned to look at every object not for its being, but for its potential, for what it could become. I like to think about making music in the same way, even though I do not build toys anymore, but sounds and instruments.
When it comes to these ‘machines’ - and indeed to the many extended techniques in your music - I’m interested in asking about how you compose. Probably not at a piano (or maybe you do??) but do you use technology such as a sampler? Or do you do all the work in your imagination?
I normally don’t write at a piano, but mostly in my mind, taking very long walks.For me it is crucial to be able to experiment with and experience the instruments I am writing
for. This experimentation includes discovering ways to transform and combine sounds in nonstandard ways. Often, I will have an image of a sonic texture or behavior that I would like to create and this image drives my explorations. This process can then even lead to the use of new objects and materials in order to achieve the sound that I want.One thing that is important to mention, and that probably also respond to your previous question, is that the way I compose integrating instruments with objects changed and developed over the years, but it has never been about decorating the sound, trying to make it more beautiful. I use objects because that is the only way I can physically match the sonic representation of the sound with the image that I have in my mind.
Did you ever have an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski’s: When he heard John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra on the radio, the encounter totally changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period, (Jeux vénitiens and onward…)?
There have been many of these moments, but the most important encounter I had so far has been with the work by the British visual artist Chris Cunningham, which I discovered in 2016. His videos deeply inspired me and somehow changed the way I think about material.
In addition to being a composer, you curate the (forthcoming!) BTzM festival. Does this (curatorial) work influence what you make as a composer?
As curator, in order to propose a great program I have to do a lot of researches to find new, interesting voices in the contemporary music field. This leads me to music I don’t know that sometimes surprises and inspires me. I always say that programming for me is exactly as writing a piece — a slow, difficult, process. But listening to all the new works coming to life in Bludenz for the first time is sometimes even more rewarding than writing a good piece!
What else are you writing at the moment/what is coming up in the next few months for you?
I am working on an audio-visual piece in collaboration with the artist Anna Kubelik, which will be premiered at the Münchener Biennale, in June 2018, and to a new piece for ensemble NIKEL used for a short film by Peter Tscherassky, to be premiered in Darmstadt in July. So, a lot of visual music this year!
The Riot Ensemble perform Clara Iannotta's The People Here Go Mad. They Blame The Wind. at LSO St Luke's on Saturday 11 November. Click here to find out more and book tickets.