Earlier this month, Chris Tignor stopped by to talk about his electronic chamber ensemble Slow Six’s new album, Nor’easter, just out on New Albion. As it turned out, it was an interview that began not with a question from me, but a clarification from Chris related to a couple of articles I’d previously written about the band.
“Both times [you've] mentioned the word ‘pedigree’ when describing my academic background,” noted Tignor, who has studied at Bard, NYU, and Princeton (Oops, I did it again. I just can’t help myself). Indeed, I was guilty as charged; I’d been trying to give readers a sense of the man behind a project that clearly exhibited both indie rock and art music influences.
“I was a literature major at Bard and I have a computer science masters from NYU. A few years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to go through the music composition program at Princeton, but you know, before like, a few years ago, I had exactly zero formal music-writing training ever. So I don’t know if my pedigree is as good as you give me credit for.”
As I learned during our talk for this week’s Spotlight Session on Counterstream Radio, Tignor had been playing the violin since he was young, but his earliest music theory lessons came out of a textbook he started reading during downtime while working as a sound engineer at CBGB. Whether his formal schooling had been dedicated to music study or not, however, I’d argue that his educational pedigree still holds up quite nicely, especially when you want to dig into the ways Slow Six has integrated computers/live electronic processing in its music, as well as the ways they’ve skirted the usual post-conservatory new music performance track.
Though Tignor writes the majority of the music performed by Slow Six, the compositional process is only beginning when he first presents his ideas to the band. The project is intentionally set up to allow plenty of opportunity for Tignor to tweak the electronics and the score, both during rehearsals and after live performances. It also offers the performers the opportunity to live with the parts and make suggestions of their own. That process might go on for a year or more before the band even thinks about going into the studio.
According to Tignor, “We’re just really into capturing the sound of the band as a group of players that really knows and has become hands-on with the music, as opposed to a sort of paid, three-rehearsal thing with brilliant players who come in, learn their parts, and then cut the recording.”
Unconventional ways of working do keep them out of the traditional new music venues in New York, however. “I can probably count on three fingers the number of times some well established organization has reached out to us, and we hustle,” says Tignor. “We’re working, but we have had to do it ourselves.”