Writing for Other Musicians
FRANK J. OTERI: A little over a decade ago, aside from all of these installation and environmental projects, you started writing for conventional western instruments again. I guess what I want to ask you is—how has it been informed by all of this environmental installation work that you do, and what made you return to instruments given that you’ve been established as doing this other work for such a long time?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Let’s see, I started doing it in ’87. Yes, of course it has been affected by my work with other sorts of sounds. My instrumental work is very timbral. But then I’ve been in love with timbre from when I was studying in Germany with Koenig. On the one hand, I was studying electronic music with him, on the other hand I was writing a piece for 10 instruments and baritone, some settings of Kafka parables which are very timbral. Timbre is one of my great delights. It’s always been a major stimulus. The other aspect of this sort of work that has affected my instrumental work is a really strong principle of letting sounds complete themselves, letting sound masses, which are resonating in some way or another from instruments and voices and so on, complete themselves. I also have a deep interest in having the personalities of the performers that I work with be able to shape what they’re doing. So I work a lot with Tom Buckner. A lot of what I do with Tom is focused on a really strong interest in his reaction to things, his being coming through the sound very clearly.
FRANK J. OTERI: So you set poetry?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yes, or for me one of the most satisfying pieces I did with Tom doesn’t use any text at all. It asks him to go through three stages of allowing his voice to take him over and carry him into a very different state of being, different from what he normally experiences, through the medium of his voice—as if he were a shaman. From shamanic rituals that I listened to recordings of in the BBC years ago in England, it’s very interesting how the shaman’s voice continuously transforms powerfully throughout the experience. You can hear the change of state coming on. I wanted to see if that would be possible for a performer to do. Tom does it to the hilt. He really, really does it. That has no text whatsoever.
FRANK J. OTERI: In terms of the compositional process—this is really my last area for you, to try to connect to all of these things. You said very early on that if you’re creating something that is music, you obviously have a structure, one thing comes after another until you realize that you’re doing it. What are the guiding principles when you’re creating a piece, whatever it is? Do you go in saying, “Oh, this is going to be half an hour. This is going to be 3 hours; this is going to have a slow section here, have a faster moving part there, etc.” What are the kinds of decisions you make before you start composing?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Oh, that’s a hard one to answer. I start by feeling my way into what the first sound is. That can come fast or it can take a long time for me to find that first sound. Then I look at its characteristics and see what it suggests to me. Then before too long I have a cluster of materials to work with. What I often do fairly early in a piece—it happens when I get stuck! I sort of carry myself on these perceptions or ideas that emerge from the first sound for awhile. Then I always run it into the ground and somehow come to a T-junction. At that point I start to analyze pitch patterns—turn them around, twist them around, create as many variables from them that I can, work with them vertically, horizontally, all the old techniques, you know. I start to analyze rhythmic patterns and push them around. That’s partly, of course, to generate and derive material so there is coherence, but also to get my mind grooving again creatively. I keep going from there. The point at which I’m doing that analysis is usually where a lot of the material for the rest of the piece tends to emerge and suggest overall structural shape, but I never go into a piece with preconceptions of what sort of structure I want to create, for example. I specifically never do that.
FRANK J. OTERI: If an ensemble were to commission you to write, say, a string quartet or brass quintet…
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Well, Bang on a Can recently approached me to write a piece for the All-Stars, so there’s a specific instance… It’s called Vortex. They did it in the marathon last June. It was great fun working with them, really wonderful fun.
FRANK J. OTERI: They seem a very different sound world from what I’d normally associate your sound world with. It’s very loud, very feisty, confrontational…
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: I started by visiting them all. I think I started with Robert Black and Mark Stewart and asked them to just play me the sort of sounds they really like to make. It was like getting a view into their sound world. In each case people started riffing on sounds and finding new sounds from their instruments. Mark found an amazing array of sounds from both the uboingee, which is that multiple spring guitar that he’s got, and from the electric guitar. He’s a wonderful, creative mind, as you know of course. Robert Black was doing amazing things at the top end of his instrument. I had an idea of some of what Lisa Moore does from having heard her play often. Wendy Sutter‘s lyrical side came out very powerfully when we got together—beautiful, lyrical playing. David Cossin was pulling out thing out of his cupboards showing me all sorts of instrument that he’s been collecting from all over the world, and showing me things that he loves to do. He showed me a beautiful thing on the tam tam, where you start the tam tam resonating and then he’d put a mic very close to it and sort of scanned the frequencies that would come out from different parts of the tam tam through a little portable speaker setup. It was a beautiful sound. So I started collecting little clusters of sounds for each player and took it from there.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s so interesting. This goes back to the picking up the rocks once again…
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yes. You know, there’s a clear line.
FRANK J. OTERI: In all of this, it’s beautiful! But I walk away and I think your music is so much about everybody else. Where do you see yourself inside your music?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Huh, that’s an impossible question! [laughs]
FRANK J. OTERI: We always end with the hard ones.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Well, where I see myself is in the continuum of ideas, as if I where a one-idea person with a continuum exactly from that rock and its layers and complexity of structure, all the way through to the Danube and what its nature is. And incidentally that is the most beautiful river to work on. It’s given me such gorgeous sounds. There is a really clear continuum, I think, along there and that’s where I see myself. In other words, through my work I can see that I’m trying to sense what the world is, as if I were more than a human body. I’m trying to sense what all the other phenomena of the world are by their nature. It’s that old will o’ the wisp, or the old grail of can you feel yourself at one with something that you would otherwise, in a different state of mind, label as outside yourself. Can you be one with it?
FRANK J. OTERI: Finally then, what do you want the listener to get from it?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: A sense of being at one with the river or the tam tam; a sense of no separation between herself or himself and the sound; just the experience of how nourishing sound is, what is does for one’s body, how good that feels.