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15 Questions to The Salt Lake Electric Ensemble

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
We’re doing very well. This is because we just finished a performance at the Utah arts Festival that turned out better than expected, and we played to our largest audience thus far. We’re in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

What’s on your schedule right now?
We have another public performance scheduled for August. We’re working on a new set of original collective compositions for that concert. We’re also in the initial stages of making a new record and a new multimedia piece.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
Full of amazing artists, underrated.

When did you start playing your instrument and what or who were your early passions and influences?
As a group, we have guitarists, bassists, percussionists, keyboardists, a brass player, and a few who don’t play acoustic instruments. We began studying music at ages ranging from 5 to adolescence. As electronic musicians, we began learning our instruments as soon as we began learning how to use a computer during childhood. The specifics of synthesis and sampling were learned by and large as we figured out how to play In C.

We have a wide range of influences that inspired this project, but here are a few:

LaMonte Young, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Arvo Part, Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, The Beatles, Neu, Sonic Youth, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
Musicians are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to using computers as musical instruments. Our challenge is to make our imagined sounds become concrete. This is extraordinarily challenging, and requires just as much study as any other instrument would require. While challenging, it’s also an extremely exciting field to be working in.

What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
Our first public performance as the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble took place in an art studio at midnight. Performers and audience alike shared beer, wine, and joints; the light projections set a perfect mood, and the energy was almost visceral. After that performance we knew we were on the right path.

What are currently your main artistic challenges, including questions of technique relating to your instrument?
Our greatest artistic challenge is to conceptualize new sounds, and integrate those sounds with a large group of creative musicians in real time. Our largest challenge stems from the overwhelming number of choices in terms of how we create sounds: traditional acoustic instruments, synthesizers, sampled recordings, software, and found sounds. Somehow we have to parse those choices down to the right color and texture for the piece we are playing. Sometimes a lengthy process. There are quite a few people working in electronic music right now, and we’re working hard to stake out some kind of unique approach that has integrity artistically.

What do you start with when working on a new piece?

Sometimes we start with a composer’s score that interests us, but the initial interpretive concept is truly the beginning. This leads to a series of rehearsals where the conceptual becomes concrete through a process of collective decision making.

There's a wide range of nuances between trying to stick as closely to the score as possible and the kind of freedom Glenn Gould would indulge in. How do you balance your personal emotions/ideas and the intentions of the composer in your interpretations?
We tend to side with the composer as the ultimate arbiter of how a piece should be performed, whatever liberties we take need to be logical. That much said, we’ve chosen music that has a great deal left to performers to decide. The freedom built into Terry Riley’s score was truly inspiring to us as performers. Ultimately, if there’s a question that something in our interpretation may be crossing a boundary set up by the composer, we’ll only continue if we all agree that it makes our interpretation much better, and doesn’t go against the spirit of the piece.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
A strong opening and a strong conclusion, go a long way. Our goal for a performance is to provide an unforgettable experience for our audience while satisfying ourselves as performers. Our approach to electronic music is to deliver some form of visual accompaniment, because electronic sound has an abstract quality that good lighting, multimedia tools, and physical presentation of the performer can translate into a kind of meta-narrative for the music. Our approach has been to use simple motifs and colors to balance the static performers.

As Charles Rosen put, “the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition”. From your perspective, what are some of the root issues for what is generally referred to as the “crisis of classical music”, which also includes the scene for contemporary composition, and what, to you, are sensible ideas to bring it back to life?
The “death of classical music” is about as old news as the death of God. It’s nineteenth century nostalgia. The crisis is that it continues to be perceived by a large part of the public as the exclusive property of an intellectual/social elite. The crisis is tied in with the deluge of media competing for attention and the new paradigms of consumption, but maybe that holds the solutions as well. Let’s hope  the age of independent classical recording labels will continue to mature and nurture the audience for “contemporary” composers.

The flood of album-releases and concerts are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today, in a time when it is instantly available in dizzying amounts?
The value of music remains strong for the listener. The fact that so many listeners are inspired to create music is proof of this. The Internet and digital music production tools have created a unique moment in history, where the distinction between the producers and consumers of music is beginning to disappear. From a strictly economic prospective, the huge supply of good music obviously makes it much more difficult to make a living as a professional musician, but overall, with these new tools, I still see a bright future for music in the global culture, because money isn’t a good motivator for the creating of great art.

Many artists are finding it hard to secure a living with their music. What are the financial realities you're living with and in which way, do you feel, could they be improved?

Right now we all work at other jobs to survive. The music we make is funded by us alone. It would be good to see increased government funding for the arts worldwide and especially here in the United States. More realistically, we would be thrilled if we found someone to work with who was an expert in connecting musicians with their audiences.

Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.

Stars of the Lid
John Luther Adams

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

We’ve all experimented with various instruments. Some instruments sound better than others at the beginning, but they all require many years of dedication before they can be truly expressive.

Image by Niki Chan.
Salt Lake Electric Ensemble Discography:
In C 2011

Recommended Salt Lake Electric Ensemble Interviews, Articles & Mixes on the Web:
Extensive Review of  Salt Lake Electric Ensemble's rendition of „In C“ at Sequenza 21
In-depth article covering  Salt Lake Electric Ensemble's approach to performance and how they arrived at their version of „In C“


Salt Lake Electric Ensemble

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