RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

15 Questions to Olivia Block

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello. I am fine. I am at home in Chicago. 

What’s on your schedule right now? 
I am working mostly on scores, and concentrating on thinking in terms of scores instead of recordings so that I can present live work which has a large sound using mostly acoustic instruments. I want to be as fluent with scores as I am with recorded material. It still feels more foreign to me to think only this way, but it is getting better. I am always doing live events in various places. Various collaborations, recordings are in their beginning stages. 

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I think the "experimental" music scene is healthy and vibrant at present. There is a lot of interesting work being generated by electronic musicians, composers, sound artists and improvisers, and hopefully this will continue as the associated technology continues to become more accessible, less expensive. The main problem I see ( not necessarily a crisis) is that there is a gap in perception between the artists who form the canon of contemporary Western art music and those who dwell in this "underground" scene. These should be viewed as part of one lineage. This lack of inclusion leads to a lack of support and ability to realise certain projects, particularly large live performance projects. In my own case I wish there were more opportunities for longer planning times in a single space, access to/ rehearsal time with musicians, generally more planning time and materials for a single live event. I wish more "experimental" composers had access to large ensembles and orchestras. Of course the funding for these things require larger grants, donations, etc. 

What does the term "new“ mean to you in connection with music?
I think at this point the term "new" is usually associated with contemporary composed music which uses acoustic instruments. I think it is used to describe a genre at this point. In fact many of the "new music" works do not have a new sound, they share more in common with 20th century composed works. 

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Sound is the material and composition is the artful way in which the material is arranged.  How strictly do you separate improvising and composing? For me, improvisation is a means to obtain a certain more open type of sound which one cannot achieve through a standard score. Right now I am more interested in improvisation as part of a larger more planned composition. The composer should understand when to trust the musician to achieve a certain desired result.   

Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
For me the question is not of choosing between types of tonality (or atonality), rather whether to use tonality (or pitched material, to be more exact) as a constant element in a piece, as is the case in most traditional music, or whether to use it as one incredibly powerful element in a larger composition which also includes non pitched sounds, and the lack of sound. I think of this in visual terms, where shades of blacks, whites and grays are used to create the larger parts of a canvas, and colors are used sparingly, yet effectively. Too much color can cheapen the effect of the color. Too much pitch can cheapen the effect of tonality. With this larger point in mind, I think that when tonality is used, harmony and dissonance can be used in one work. I don't like limiting myself to one type of tonal system. I don't think listening to a lot of atonal material is fun, and tonal harmonic material has gathered so many associations over time, so they should all be used carefully.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
I try to deal with this question in my work, because I don't know the answer, but the question is important to me. 

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
Those distinctions mean very little to me at this point. 

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
An artist absolutely has a duty towards other people, as does every human being. I don't think this means artists should be didactic or have a "message", necessarily, though. I like art that asks questions instead of answering them. 

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
In some cases I actually think this is true. The farther music moves away from tonal harmony, which is logical to the ear due to the fact that it has roots in the overtone system, and steady rhythm, the more difficult it is to understand as music right away. I have definitely learned to appreciate certain types of music over time, particularly after I learned more about the context surrounding that music. 

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions. 
What cultural subsidies???? I live in America.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I would commission orchestral works by radical composers and sound artists. I imagine a large ensemble including orchestral and electronic instruments, and pieces of driftwood, rocks, glass etc 

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours
would sound like?

If I start thinking that way I can't do my work.

Heave To (Sedimental) 2006
Change Ringing (Cut) 2005
Mobius Fuse (Sedimental) 2001
Pure Gaze (Sedimenta) 1998

Olivia Block

Related articles

Impersonal Revelations
Important questions: Olivia Block's trilogy ...
Gruenrekorder: Autumn Leaves are falling for free
The Gruenrekorder label has made ...
15 Questions to Graziano Lella
"New" to Graziano means doing ...
15 Questions to Steve Layton
If there were something like ...
15 Questions to Kenneth Kirschner
A couple of years ago, ...
15 Questions to Dronaement / Marcus Obst
It's time to celebrate for ...
15 Questions to John Duncan
John Duncan Biography #1: After ...
Interview with Vidna Obmana
At the moment, Dirk Serries ...
15 Questions to Tom Heasley
Tom has only just started ...
15 Questions to Jerome Froese
Jerome is the son of ...
15 Questions to Aaron Ximm
Aaron Ximm is his "real" ...

Partner sites