You, along with Laura Karpman, are co-curating an evening of our NYFOS series this March. Can you tell us about the program you’ve come up with and what led you to include the pieces you’ve decided to present?
AND STILL WE DREAM is a concert that looks through a feminist lens at history and into the future. It profiles powerful people who have each made important contributions to expand equity and opportunity. Our concept is about erasing time, so you have this contemporary immersive visceral connection with these amazing women who come to life through music.
Let me break it down — Through the voices of soprano Jennifer Zetlan, mezzo-soprano Devony Smith, we experience Susan B. Anthony in conversation with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Laura Karpman & Kelley Rourke’s And Still We Dream. In my piece, we hear Sojourner Truth weave with Maria W. Stewart on the tongue of poet Lynne Procope. Kathryn Bostic focuses us into a space and power in her regal WomanSong. Ida Up Front, Laura Kaminsky and Leah Maddrie is a powerful discussion about fighting for justice. And Define “Woman” by Laura Karpman and Kai-Lilly Karpman, explodes out the words we use to describe and question gender. Michael Barrett has described this program as a music and poetry slam. I think he’s right about that.
The program includes a new song from you; can you give us a preview of what we can expect in this piece? What were your inspirations as you composed it?
Many moons ago, I co-founded VisionIntoArt with the great Paola Prestini (who has gone on to blow up what we know to be contemporary music, collaboration, and interdisciplinary art!). Poet Lynne Procope was an important voice in VisionIntoArt. I always loved the way she built language – rhythmic, driving, exciting, super personal and expressive. When Laura (Karpman) and I started growing out this program, Lynne was the first person who came to mind for this new piece. Lynne created this beautiful language out of 19th century words, and together we developed what I’ve been calling ‘shadow call and response.’ So it’s not just successive back and forth of soprano and poet trading words, but words and voices also shadow each other. I really like the marriage of spoken and sung words. Each person carrying the next.
I read a piece you wrote for Indiewire about attending a residency at the Sundance Lab in 2014 and was stuck by your excitement over the ability to work closely in person with sound designers (and all the other professionals that help a film’s sound take shape) on your projects there. Have you been able to recreate this kind of close collaboration in any of your film scoring work since then? If not, how do you use technology to compensate for physical proximity as you work toward a shared vision?
I am extremely fond of collaboration. I think the deeper you can go working with another person, you ideally get to a point where the music is working with the music, the sound with the sound, the words with the music, the sound design with the score. So it’s no longer about you but the stuff itself asserts its own voice and your job is to listen. My wife, Laura Karpman, and I collaborate all the time too. It’s pure joy. We fight about meters (as every married couple does?) and know each other well enough to work out ideas on the page, in a timeline, in the studio. And when I’m collaborating with someone who isn’t local (which is most of the time), yes, technology is our friend. I am constantly sending sounds, playlists, recordings, ideas back and forth.
Collaboration seems to form a through line in your career, from co-founding the multimedia-focused production company VisionIntoArt to the creation of Ask Your Mama to your work on film scores. Can you speak to what you’ve learned about working with other artists, and what makes a successful artistic partnership?
Collaboration isn’t about agreement. Collaboration is about willingness to get your fingernails dirty. Reject it. Love it. Get in there. And if everyone has that same point of view from the start, you can make something really unique and exciting.
Are there any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about and would like to share (other than NYFOS Next, of course)?
I just scored this wickedly cool project directed by Catherine Hardwicke for Quibi, a new content platform that is set to launch in April that takes cinema and delivers it as short-form pieces. Can’t wait for everyone to check it out.
What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?
Last piece I listened to was music that is being composed in Laura and my studio.
When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
Hanging with our amazing son and taking our dogs for walks. I also infinitely enjoy excellent food.
NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you?
Song is the purest music. It is the quietest and most intimate. It’s how we all start out as children and what connects us no matter what language we speak. It boils any instrument down to the human instrument. I think I’d like to live in a world where people only sang.
What is your favorite song? (Qualify your answer to this possibly impossible question as needed.)
I can’t even begin to answer this question. “Send In The Clowns” by Stephen Sondheim; “Black Anenomes” by Joseph Schwantner, Britten, Bernstein, “Ask Your Mama” by Laura Karpman, “Happy Birthday” by Patty and Mildred Hill, old sacred music, ok it is too hard to answer this question!