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15 Questions to Marco Oppedisano

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello! I’m doing very well here in Queens, New York. Thanks for having me.


What’s on your schedule right now?
Last month I played a concert at The Monkey NYC which included two of my works for electric guitar and playback. Also, during this concert, I did a group improvisation with The Painful Leg Injuries and El Plan De Aguavodka in a new improvisation trio called BIOS. Next month I’m scheduled to have a compilation CD release on the OKS Recordings of North America label (www.oksrecordingsofnorthamerica.com) of my multitrack works for electric guitar.

I have also been collaborating with various artists around the world. I’ve supplied electric guitar samples for music by the French Canadian composer, Vincent Bergeron, and collaborated on a work with the Belgian composer, Ivan Georgiev. Currently, I'm finishing up a piece in a group collaboration with guitarists/composers Ken Rubenstein and Martin Bird.

Presently, my own work focuses on the use of electric guitar in an electroacoustic setting. These are pieces meant for live performance with electric guitar and a fixed playback consisting of samples from various sources.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
The music scene is pretty much a free for all in my opinion. Due to the popularity and accessibility of the internet, anyone can be heard and this is a positive. Thankfully, there are some people out there who are enthusiastic and loyal in regard to experimental music and as I stated earlier, with the internet, all types of music are just a mouse click away.

I see a crisis in the popular music sense. I attempted to watch The Grammys not too long ago and barely got through an hour of it. Having grown up on popular music, at one time, I used to look forward to watching it. There were good bands and a wide variety of very good artists featured. There is plenty of good current popular music out there, but you aren’t going to see it on popular music award shows or hear it on current popular radio.


What does the term, “new“ mean to you in connection with music?
Other than literally any new composition or song, these days “new” doesn’t take on the meaning it once had because so many things have already been done. Laptop generated music was once considered somewhat new, but now that it has become a part of academia, any “new” music factor it once had has diminished. You can even buy books on how to do DJ type scratching techniques with turntable. So, I don’t believe in the idea of “new” anymore, but it excites me to hear present day composers who are skillful, refreshing and unique.


Interestingly enough, at least in the American conservatory, “new” music is often perceived as the music from the 20th century “classical” composers. There is a wide audience still not at all aware of the contemporary instrumental and electronic music written in the 20th century, so it’s new to them. So because this music is widely unfamiliar to many people, it’s considered “new” although in reality it’s not new at all.


How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
In my electroacoustic music, sound is a very important aspect of my work. In some cases, a particular sound in and of itself can dictate the direction of a composition. One of my goals in my electroacoustic music is using dynamics, color and texture with sound in combination with standard pitch related material. Working with the contrast between sound and pitch gives me the most amount of creative satisfaction and I can best explore this in the medium of electroacoustic music.


How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Having studied classical composition seriously in an academic environment with prestigious teachers (in combination with doing a lot of free improvisation and basic jamming), I find that the separation depends on what I am composing. When I set out to write a piece for an ensemble with focus on the written note, the act of improvisation doesn’t come into play much. Lately though, the focus in my electroacoustic work has been incorporating elements of improvisation. Creatively, I find that improvisation is a liberating way to generate ideas. Often I’ll record an extended electric guitar improvisation and extract what I like or think I can use. The composing aspect enters when I decide to arrange these originally improvised ideas in a fixed manner. I will also try to balance between the composed and improvised in the “live” electric guitar part of my playback works (RENEWAL, CITYSCAPE, DUO and SKIMMING THE SURFACE, for example). Although there is thematic material in my pieces that I try to recreate exactly in a live performance, the allowance of some live improvisation in these works is important to me. It allows room for interpretation and the feeling of not being totally restricted by having to be faithful to a” written” part.

I’d also like to add that there is also the view that improvisation is “spontaneous composition.” Obviously the difference here is a temporal one and this has also been very influential to my aesthetic. I can understand why people may feel that in a live situation, extended free improvisation is more enjoyable for the performer than it is for the listener. I’ve performed in many free improvisation situations and find that it's an excellent opportunity for me to explore, be surprised and relish the moment. I find it very satisfying when spontaneous musical connections are made with other performers.

How would you define the term “interpretation”?
The first thing that comes to mind is how a performer may interpret a piece of written music. I suppose another view is how a listener can interpret a piece of music.


Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
I believe in the freedom to choose anything. There are no rules. I find that my present work, although “sound” driven and utilizing aspects of noise, has a consonant side with its use of chords and melody. I tend to use noise and non pitch related material more as color and accentuation as opposed to being the sole driving force of a composition. In a strictly pitch related work, I lean more towards consonance with some elements of dissonance. Of course harmony and dissonance are also effected by another important aspect: Rhythm. That’s a whole other area of discussion.

In regard to “Harmony” and “Dissonance” in the classical conservatory tradition, there is always the trap a young impressionable student/composer could fall into by thinking that dissonance and complexity are required to make their pieces sound more contemporary, many times resulting in unnecessarily difficult and contrived pieces of music ("music from the neck up” as I like to call it). Unfortunately, the influence of academia and the vast classical music tradition has something to do with this. As valuable as a serious music education was for me, I’ve written my best and most honest music outside of the direct influence of academia.


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?
This is a tough question. I’ve had stimulating discussions with people on what is music and what is not, especially with non “serious” musicians and everyday listeners. I believe that if you choose to organize a series of sounds or random sonic related events into a framework and present it in an organized manner, you have composed a piece of music. Personally, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good piece of music (and there have been many radical experiments that I haven’t cared for), but to me, it is all music. To expect the average listener to understand radical, esoteric experiments and accept them as music is asking a lot. Anyone who has difficulty listening to something they don’t completely understand will have trouble calling it music. It’s as simple as that. From my experience, most listeners like to hear performers who perform well. For many, there needs to be some physical or compositional talent involved in order for it to be considered musical, even if it’s a style of music they are not wholly familiar with. This entire issue depends on the various degrees of listeners. Basically, I’m a firm believer in keeping an open mind.

I also believe that the most radical experiments in music were distinct products of the time, whether it was a piece of silence or the burning of a piano. These are more musical statements than anything else. Is music related performance art a form of music? Without some sort of visual aspect accompanying it (such as video or dance), many radical experiments just wouldn’t come across. And even then, they still don’t come across to many audience members or listeners.


Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?

These are just methods of classification. I’ll assume the word “serious” here applies to contemporary classical music, or “art” or “concert” music. If taken literally, saying that that is the only serious music is ridiculous. In regard to style, whether it’s an extended composition, a jazz improvisation or a popular song, I’m interested mostly in the ingenuity of the composer or performer. Anyone who cares enough about their music and devotes countless hours perfecting their craft, regardless of style or genre, is serious about what they do.

On the other hand, is anything in art overtly serious anyway? I think there’s a problem with people who take themselves too seriously.


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?
The artist ultimately has a duty towards him or herself. Art at the outset is personal and the social aspect comes into play when it is shared publicly. Basically, I feel like I have something interesting to say and want to share it. In addition to wanting to share my music with an audience, I do feel that on some level I am making a social contribution.

Considering that so much of the creative aspect is effected by the politics and the world we live in anyway, I don’t feel there is the need to make it more than what it is by making obvious political statements in a work of art. I avoid at all costs composing music from an obvious political stance; I’m not interested in making any social commentaries. My music is inspired by everyday feelings, images, sounds, sensations and intuition. I write music because I enjoy it and also with the hope of having some kind of audience. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in reaching all kinds of listeners with my music. A good balance between the esoteric and accessible has always interested me.

With that said, I understand the need for certain artists to express their political views in music. In order for an artist to write music from a strictly political viewpoint and to withstand the test of time, it must cover relevant and universal issues.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
Being musically educated may help you appreciate and expose you to music you might not otherwise experience. However, the “non educated” listener who is moved by a piece of music can also appreciate it on a deep level, albeit without intellectualizing it. Musicians hear music differently than non musicians or other artists, so it’s not fair to look at it solely from that viewpoint. Some of the most boring, uninspired and pretentious music was written by “serious” composers who fancy themselves intellectual, composers who write music for other composers or academic colleagues (some with the hope and dream of landing a secure academic job).

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
True. Not much I can add to this. It’s the plight of the artist in most parts of the world.


You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Good question. Being a guitarist and a fan of everything guitar, I’d probably focus on interesting composed or improvised guitar related music, leaning towards the experimental. I’m also very interested in music utilizing the current technology. Then again, I’m open to anything that moves me. It would be a very long list!


Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I see each of my pieces as a magnum opus because of the amount of work that goes into each composition. I do see this whole idea of a magnum opus as a sort of dated Romantic era view or case of “masterpiece” syndrome. In any case, I don’t think it’s something that should be given much thought. Is it really up to the composer to decide this about his or her own work anyway? Personally, just finishing a work I’m relatively proud of is a great accomplishment.

Homepage:
Marco Oppedisano
Marco Oppedisano at MySpace
Marco Opediano and the Bios Trio at MySpace
Marco Opedisano at OKS Recordings of North America

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