On Wednesday, May 21, Guy Barash (composer and curator) will release his debut album “Facts About Water” (Innova) at Roulette in Brooklyn. We talked to Barash about his album, of course, but also Eavesdropping, the contemporary series he’s been curating since 2010.
Can you tell me more about the title of your album?
Facts about Water is a personal meditation on the fluidity of our perception, mindfulness amid a hyperactive society, and the cyclical nature of being. It is titled after a chapter from Nick Flynn’s second memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb, in which he includes many water references and frequently delves into the Buddhist cycle of birth, life, and death (Samsara).
How did you select the works featured on “Facts About Water”?
The album represents my musical journey that started a few years ago and culminated in these recordings. Not only new works came out of this journey, but also a new aesthetic (my aesthetic) began to establish. The works in the album belong to the same chapter in my musical story. They speak the same language. For example, the way I extract musical ideas from extra-musical sources.
In my first string quartet, Wrong Ocean (title is also from The Ticking is the Bomb), I explore simultaneity and synchronicity as musical phenomena within the context of a psychologically disorienting microtonal environment. Ocean tides and currents are a metaphor for the human consciousness within a frantic urban environment. The experience I have had with electronic music is strongly evident in the sound palette I have chosen to use in this piece.
Blind Huber, originally a multimedia work, is a rendering of poems from Nick Flynn’s eponymous collection. In his book, Flynn invites us to consider the intricate geometry of the beehive. I derived my structural/textural pallet for this piece from that very same geometry, and the sonic environment within and around the beehive. For his video projections, Jared Handelsman has documented a yearlong cycle of honeybees around the Catskill Mountains.
Between this album and your show at Roulette, your ongoing collaboration with Nick Flynn is quite central. How did you guys meet and how did you decide to work together?
My aesthetic corresponds with many disciplines other than music. However, poetry has been the most influential of all. I love playing with words. Shortly after arriving in New York just a few years ago, I started searching for poetry by local writers. I came across a poem by Nick Flynn, Imagination, which triggered something in me. It had a rhythm that immediately translated into music. After setting it to music (soprano and percussion), I had the idea that this exploration can evolve into a bigger project.
I reached out to Nick without knowing too much about who he was and what else he wrote. After a funny email correspondence in which we discussed my musical style (Nick was curious about what I had in mind for this piece, whether it’s closer to Philip Glass or Verdi. I still can’t answer this question), then a quick chat on the phone, and we decided to meet. What I didn’t know was that this meeting in a Brooklyn café one evening in the fall of 2008 would develop into the ongoing fruitful collaboration that it has become.
At the time he was working on a new book. I had the fortune to see raw materials, to get a rare glimpse into Nick’s process. It inspired me deeply. We started working on Proteus, an evening-long multimedia oratorio that explored central themes in post-9/11 American life. The piece was premiered at Galapagos Art Space, and presented again at The Tank alongside video projections by Jared Handelsman and Brendan Byrne.
Two sections from the Proteus oratorio made their way into the album as standalone pieces. Seven Testimonies is based on early versions of Nick Flynn’s poems from The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands. The poems, as Flynn describes in his endnote, “are redacted versions of the testimonies of seven Abu Ghraib detainees.” In the original Proteus oratorio they were separated into seven ritornellos that served as a modern day Greek chorus. The second section is the Proteus monologue for male voice and electronic processing. The mythological Proteus is an early sea-god. He can foretell the future, but will change his shape to avoid having to; he will answer only to someone who is capable of capturing him. In this piece, with compositional and electronic means, I tried to portray the transformative quality of Proteus that is captured so beautifully in Nick’s text.
Concurrently, some of these texts grew into Nick Flynn’s second memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb (W.W. Norton 2009). Others made their way into his book of poems, The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf Press 2011).
A CD release concert for a debut album sounds like something one would dream of for years. How do you feel about your May 21 show?
Releasing a debut album is a huge milestone for every young composer. I feel very fortunate to have had people like Elliott Sharp, Cornelius Dufallo, David Bloom, Kathy Supové, Nadav Lev, and all the other performers that are too numerous to be named individually, beside me in the process of producing it. I am grateful to the guys at Innova: Philip Blackburn, Chris Campbell, and Steve McPherson for including me in their awesome roster, and for their ongoing support. And of course, I am honored that Roulette has selected this show to be part of their official spring 2014 programming.
Like many passionate New Music folks in the city, you are also a curator. How has your Eavesdropping series evolved since the last time we spoke?
After three successful years at The Tank, in Fall 2013 I relocated Eavesdropping to Spectrum. I love that it is reminiscent of New York’s experimental-music lofts of the ’70s and ’80s, and even more, the intimate, “homey vibe” (The New York Times) at Spectrum that allows the audiences to get as close as possible to the creative process. I think both Spectrum and Eavesdropping’s mission statements align perfectly. I am still committed to presenting relevant and innovative repertoire, and believe that the series has matured greatly in the past two years. The concept of each installment is more refined, and the programming is more cohesive within each season’s overarching theme. And, my production skills have improved tremendously in the process of producing Facts About Water.