Ron Wiltrout on comedy, Michael Harrison, and the avant-garde

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005a/1243520722-wiltrout_2.jpgRon Wiltrout is the head of the New Music Collective and one of the hardest working musicians-composers in the city. He's in New York now to perform at the Bang on a Can Festival. This week, the Music in Time series featured work by Ban on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe. Tuesday night, Wiltrout and I watched Michael Harrison, the creator of "just intonation" and the CD Revelation, perform at the Recital Hall at the Simons Center for the Arts. I called him when he en route to New York to ask what he thought and about his take on the rest of the festival.

On Harrison's Revelations
"I loved being in that room with him. I love seeing where his hands were falling on the keyboard, because I think in his turning an A-flat is higher than an A-natural. Being there also showed me how much diversity there is in the piece. You gives you those intro notes that are dry and straight forward and then as he gets deeper into it, you see the piece is like a song cycle almost, with bits of Irish folk song, Rachmaninoff-like, big Romantic chord progressions."

On the piano's unique tuning

"I talked to the piano tuner to compliment him on getting the middle pedal to work right. The New Music Collective did a concert a while back that used the middle pedal and we couldn't really get it to work right, because it's not used often. While I was talking to him, other people came up to ask if he was the tuner, and he said he wasn't."

On Harrison's theory of intonation
"I saw him give a presentation a while back and he talked about his mentor, the composer La Monte Young. Young kept everything secret. His system was closely guarded as if he didn't want anyone stealing it. Harrison on the other hand is right up front about what he's doing [in fact, there was a hand-out sheet at the recital explaining the tradition and history of 'just-intonation']. He laid it all out, that this was something that was lost due to rigidness of the instrument-makers. The instruments narrowed the scope of what was possible tonally."

On audiences for comedy v. audiences for new music
"I saw FrankenMatt over the weekend and what I realized was that audience for comedy are most open to being surprised than other audiences. They want to laugh and they expect to laugh based on evidence you give them. And when you give them something else, they're not disappointed. It's a different mindset than at new music concerts. If you want to laugh, you have to get the joke. To get the joke, you have to be open-minded."

On Japanese dancer Hiroaki Umeda
"I loved the development and pacing of the first piece. He didn't move his arms in the first 10 minutes. Just his feet, legs, and hips. I don't know what it means. He didn't seem to be saying here's the process; he just was the process that kept on building and building. I was really inspired and had to take a long walk just to think about it. I kept thinking to myself what I can learn from this as an improviser."

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