Recently picked up a copy of the new Meehan/Perkins disc Travel Diary, which is titled after the duet they commissioned from Paul Lansky (a wonderful disc, I might add). It reminded me of the first time I met Paul back in 2008 at the Round Top Percussion Festival where the M/P Duo premiered the work. While at the festival, I did an interview with Paul that was later published in the Percussive Arts Society‘s Percussive Notes journal (May 2010). You can take a look at the full interview from the publication on the PAS website, but here is an excerpt:
Anderson: Do you feel that your computer music has influenced your marimba or percussion composing in any way?
Lansky: It’s influenced my percussion composing more than anything else. Threads is really the first time I wrote for percussion ensemble. I’ve written some other percussion music. I have a piece that I wrote for the Clogs called Minor Alterations. It was tricky because they wanted something that would fit in with their kind of concert, which is mainly sort of pop and jazz. I don’t think that my piece fit in so I just revised it for the New Speak Ensemble. I substituted the cello for the bassoon and I think it works pretty well. There is sort of a drum set there and various noisemaking [instruments]. New Speak actually separated [the part] out, so they had two percussionists. They had one person play the cowbell, woodblocks, claves, and that sort of thing, and they had somebody who just did the drum set. I think that worked fairly well. But, I had never written for percussion ensemble before and I remember I was talking with the guys from So Percussion about it. I said, “Why do you want me to write a percussion piece?” We both had a piece on the Eliot Feld ballet in 2004.
Anderson: Is that how your relationship started?
Lansky: No, I knew them from Princeton. They had come down to play concerts at Princeton. I didn’t know them well but we were all at the Eliot Feld ballet and I had a piece there called Idle Chatter Junior which has a lot of percussion sounds. They were crazy about the piece, they really liked it. They said, “Why don’t you write a percussion piece?” I’ve been getting that sort of remark from players for a long time and I usually dismissed it. But, at that point, the computer was getting kind of old.
Anderson: You have been doing it for a long time [laugh].
Lansky: Yes, I kept changing the rules in order to make it harder for myself. I like becoming good at something more than being good at something.
Anderson: Sure, the path to becoming…
Lansky: That’s right. I felt with computers, I sort of think that I had done my thing. Lawson [White] and Doug [Perkins] were there, and I think Jason [Treuting] was there too, and they said, “Why don’t you write for us?” and I said, “I don’t know anything about writing for percussion.” And they said, “Well actually, you’ve been doing it for years.” And they said, “Write stuff and we’ll try it out for you, and workshop it.” So I did it and I wrote a set of, I think about twelve little studies for various kinds of instrument. I took it to their studio on Box Street and they played through them and we talked for a long time about what are the cliches and what are the things they really like to do and what kind of ensemble can they tour with and that sort of thing. And then I went home and wrote Threads and took a couple months, it really happened pretty quickly. I was really amazed at how familiar it felt. A lot of the things that I cared about in writing computer music sort of happened the same way in writing for percussion. I was very conscience of ensemble rhythm. And I was very conscience of texture and density. One thing that you have to do on the computer is you have to be very careful about balancing the spectrum. In Not Just More Idle Chatter as opposed to the earlier chatter pieces where I was using something called linear predictive coding, which is what cell phone use now, where you can spread the voice out make it high and low without sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks. But I decided not to use that in Not Just More Idle Chatter so I just did away with it. I had to be very careful about the spectrum so I found when writing Threads that I was constantly thinking about the same kinds of things that I’d thought about. I had written a lot of computer music that sort of passes for percussion music. I have a piece called Tables Clear, which is sort of kitchen utensils and that sort of thing. I have a piece called Dance Tracks which is improvising electric guitar and those are all basically percussion music. So a lot of the same lessons sort of came through and it was great; it really felt very familiar.
We were fortunate enough to have Paul out to UCF recently for our Collide Festival (January, 2011). It was great to watch him work with our students and to hear him speak about his music in detail. We’re lucky that he has adopted the percussion medium for some of his latest work. Paul has already made a significant mark with his acoustic percussion music and I, for one, am looking forward to everything he has in store for us down the road.