January 1st 2018
Part of the process of applying for graduate school was to write up an “artists statement”. This is my attempt to communicate some of the creative frustrations and discoveries I’ve been having in the last few years. More of it is about frustrations, especially those I have had with my experience as a composer at Eastman. I’m not sure if this was the best way to go about explaining this, but it is what it is. This is more or less what I sent in (minus a few school specific references).
Entering my freshman year of college I identified as a composer. I am a composer. That was me. Now finishing my Bachelor’s of Music in Composition at Eastman, I identify as a composer/musician/sound designer/writer/creator/multimedia artist person. I don’t know how to describe my creative identity right now other than with this unwieldy conglomerate of all the different creative projects I’ve been motivated to pursue lately. But even though my creative interests are still based somewhat in working with sound, I can say for sure that I don’t just identify as a composer anymore.
Initially as a “composer” at Eastman my main goal as I came to understand it was to perfect my ability to create intricate and carefully constructed scores. I got pretty good at this. I can make whatever notational thing I want in Sibelius now, be it traditional or non- traditional, open ended scores, scores for small ensembles, for orchestra, for solo piano, for chorus, for theatre combined with music and electronics, whatever.
But as for learning how to make music in this way that’s satisfying or artistically fulfilling? Nope.
I’ve discovered that making music in the way that Eastman generally encourages, by valuing the subtle beauty that comes from exploring the musical nuts and bolts of notes, rhythms, sounds, orchestrations, extended techniques, pitch organizations, sonic experimentation, the technicalities of music and sound – it’s just not satisfying to me. And on top of not understanding this frustration well enough to understand it, I’ve been unable to communicate this frustration well to my colleges or faculty. We’ve come to understand our own values in our creative fields from slightly different perspectives. I’ve observed that the majority of my colleagues and mentors here spend their creative energies working to create something new with a pre-established means of approaching music that while still having the potential to be powerful was perhaps most relevant at another time in history. I’m not referring to any specific style or genre, but rather to the mindset of being inspired by the wild fresh provocative sounds of the past and then in that same tradition searching for even more ways to create new and never-before-heard sonic experiences in the same spirit as many composers in the twentieth century had done, meticulously building complicated structures, devising new ways of working with musical material with intricately organized intervals, and series, and motifs, and sets, and repetitions, and forms, elaborating on the endless possibilities of the beauty of sound and organization in music.
This way of approaching music makes for some great music no doubt (I don’t mean to imply it shouldn’t!), but when I tried to approach music this way as a young confused undergraduate, the results were somewhat nice and interesting, but in my own view lackluster, more trouble that it was worth, unfulfilling, and arbitrarily meaningless. I spent entire semesters realizing huge projects that I ran out of steam for half way through but compelled myself to finish anyway, composing at an agonizing snails pace. What’s more, as I became over-exposed to more and more music throughout my time here, I became more aware of just how little I was enjoying Eastman’s musical culture. I stopped going to concerts. I stopped listening to music. I started to question if I was in the right field. I was fucking miserable. And I couldn’t explain why. I didn’t understand why.
But when music alone didn’t give me a creative drive, I started to become aware of what did. I became fascinated in film. Animation. Theatre. Performance art. Video games. The Internet. Technology. Other media. I became fascinated by how other mediums took full advantage of their art form to achieve their ends. Like for example how Japanese anime director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paprika) seamlessly blends surrealism and realism in his narratives, continuously keeping his audience second-guessing what’s real and what isn’t. Or how film director Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Caché, Amour) can force his audience to form their own opinions about the stark shocking events they witness through the screen. Or how a web comic like Homestuck can create a narrative in real time, simultaneously accepting and rejecting its readership’s wishes and demands with every kind of literary “fuck you” imaginable. Or how the recent video game Doki Doki Literature Club! unnerves its players by challenging their sense of control, forcing them to uncover a disturbing uncontrollable violent meta-narrative underneath a girly anime dating simulation game. And I began watching as much film as I could find time for. I watched around 150 films in the past year and have been collecting a pool of favorite directors: Sion Sono, Charlie Kaufman, Hayo Miyazaki, David O’Reilly, D’Alexandro Jodorowsky, Quentin Tarantino, Don Hertzfeldt…
As I studied these other art forms, I became more able to articulate what it was that I valued about them, and in turn what I might be driven to explore in my own creative work. As I came to understand it, this became, one, exploring how any given medium can fully utilize it’s own strengths in that medium in each case-specific context, and two, exploring how that medium can explore it’s own relationship to those who are consuming it.
I wondered how music could do this in a concert setting, utilizing its full potential in crafting a meaningful experience for those who were listening. I became interested in the relationship between audience and performers in the concert hall and realized a few pieces that played with expectations and unspoken assumptions. Like for example in I don’t know how to to to say say anything (2016), a narrator hooked up to a speech-jammer (headphones that plays the narrator’s delayed voice back to themselves, causing them to stutter) stumbles through monologues exploring miscommunication as written by myself over a ensemble of mismatched instruments that don’t go together. I experimented with form, with real time performance “mistakes”, with meta-self referential-ness, with gently challenging the audience’s feeling of security by without warning cutting all the lights and blaring a loud electronic blast – exploring ways that are perhaps on its surface maybe cheap and theatrical, but with the ultimate goal of exploring new ways of subverting expectations and assumptions of how a work can explore its given themes or achieve its aims.
Despite Eastman’s limited resources in my wish to explore other types of media, I’ve done what I can to create an alternate path of my own, finding as much collaborative work in the other arts as I could find time for. I applied for the school’s Take Five Scholarship which gave me an additional tuition free year to take a few extra classes over at the University of Rochester that related to contemporary theatre, such as playwriting, directing, technical theatre, contemporary moral ethics, social psychology, and others (It also gave me an extra year to prepare to apply for graduate school!). I joined a student theatre troupe and tried my hand at sound designing for theatre, designing and realizing a unique multichannel design, as well as proposing an original show which was selected for production1 (but unfortunately fell though because of lack of support). I wrote theatre that had little or nothing to do with music, and on a few occasions produced it myself, theatre that explored my own frustrations with academia, the creative process, or social norms. I took on an internship with Rochester Institute of Technology School of Film and Animation (RIT) and attempted to make new connections between their media creators and and Eastman composers. I actively sought out collaborations with RIT students, scoring a fair number of animated shorts. I designed generative music for an interactive instillation with a group from RIT’s New Media Design department. I created my own small multimedia experiments with Max MSP, like creating a granulator that can turn Daft Punk into noise that sounds like Daft Punk, or experimenting with the Vine API and playing with user defined keywords and quadrophonic spatialization with procedurally generated Vine videos. I took an online course in computer science and taught myself to design and code my own website. I joined the online music community that runs the YouTube channel SiIvaGunner, which uploads mashup and melody-swap joke videos, taking apart and reconstructing video game soundtracks and contributing to a rich leitmotivic meme culture. I went to a game jam at RIT earlier this year and produced audio for seven different game development teams for quick games that were made in a 48-hour time span. I did whatever I could to tear myself outside of the limited thought bubble that Eastman had created.
As a result of this alternate path I’ve faced a bit of a conundrum in deciding where I should be looking for graduate school. Academic composition as Eastman has defined it is certainly not for me. Additionally, commercial “film composition” school is also not for me. My creative interests are much too experimental for that kind of career path. What I have been looking for then is any program that would allow me to continue to develop my interdisciplinary collaborative based interests with the freedom to go in any artistic direction I may find myself in and that would give me the most opportunities to collaborate with the others arts, film, animation, theatre, video games, technology, etc..
I’m not quite sure how to identify as a creative person just yet or what exactly I may like to do with these creative impulses, but I hope that I might belong somewhere in this crazy world of making art, regardless what label I might find for myself eventually. Maybe I’ll never find a suitable thing to call myself, who knows. I guess it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m working on projects that I enjoy.
There’s so much I don’t know. But one can only move forward, right?