When in Rome: 2010 AAR Composers Share Their Plans
Last week, the American Academy in Rome announced the beneficiaries of its next season of year-long residencies for We asked the two composers chosen, Huck Hodge and Paul Rudy, to describe what the residency means to them and what they plan to do during their year abroad.—FJO
When I found out that I had won the Rome Prize this year, two thoughts kept going through my mind: “How inspiring to spend a year surrounded by all the cultural density of Rome” and “How am I going to get any work done spending a year surrounded by all the cultural density of Rome?” Certainly life in the eternal city must have a particular effect on the aesthetics and method of any artist—an effect quite distinct from being sequestered, say, in the New Hampshire woods. I have a feeling that my work will benefit from this through greater clarity in formal design and increased directness and simplicity of expression, if only because I expect that I will spend a decent amount of time thinking about and experiencing things outside of contemporary music.
Obviously one highly appealing aspect of the residency is the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with brilliant artists and scholars in a variety of fields. In browsing over the list of fellows and residents who will join me in Rome, I was very pleased to see in addition to the names of my illustrious colleagues in music, Paul Rudy and Robert Beaser, that the visual artist William Kentridge will be among the invited residents this year. This is particularly serendipitous for me because his work in the visual domain has greatly influenced my compositional method over several works, including the piece that won the Gaudeamus Prize a couple years back.
In some ways our work couldn’t be more different. His is generally representational and is often imbued with strong political intimations, while my work tends to be rather abstract and staunchly apolitical. But I have always found Kentridge’s technique to be fascinating and beautiful, particularly his animations in which each frame is drawn over the erasure of the previous one. This technique has been especially influential in my approach to melody, where pitches and gestures of a line are sustained and repeated in other voices so that the line is surrounded by an aura of its own past.
It is perhaps indicative of the segregation of the arts in academia that in the lectures on my music where the name William Kentridge came up, no one had ever heard of him. Ideally, the interaction with scholars and artists in so many disciplines will enrich my understanding of fields outside of composition as well as their understanding of contemporary music.
I am full of gratitude for the confidence in my work that the American Academy in Rome has expressed through awarding me with a Rome Prize Fellowship for 2010/11. The Rome Prize, first and foremost for me is an opportunity to compose unfettered!
Extended residencies of this type are where I have been able to synthesize thirty years of life’s experience and my work is firing on all cylinders because of it. It is through residencies that I have fostered a convergence between mind, body and spirit, and for the first time in life, I’m really having fun making music.
While in Rome I will continue working (and playing!) on a couple of ongoing projects. I started a series of CD length works (all of which are one big work) three years ago that I’m now titling 2012 Stories. There are four CDs (to date, with ideas for at least seven more) describing through aural journeys my path towards personal transformation, as well as reconnecting with and learning the multiple voices of Mother Earth. I recently started performing live with this project, using recorded sounds from around the globe and simple instruments from pitch pipes to drums, to rattles and toys. I will be working on the next two or three discs in this series, and also the live versions, which I’ve recently begun playing in meditation, free-dance, and metaphysical circles.
I’ve believed for a long time that sound has the ability to connect emotion and provide image to each individual imagination that it touches; thus it becomes physically tangible. In my music I’m exploring the connection between intellect and intuition, and I hope that my music allows others to explore that connection, too. I think the world is in dire need for a balance between our thinking and feeling sides, and so 2012 Stories is about my personal journey to do this. Along the way, I’m learning the song of mother earth, and to explore and express that sound for the listener to explore their own journey. 2012 Stories offer journeys, not of my making, but of the ones chosen by each individual listener. Listening becomes an individual creation: it connects, it challenges, it soothes, it reminds, reminisces and wanders, through the hallways of our planet’s multifaceted voice and the history of our own experience. It invites the thinking mind and the feeling heart to work together, to integrate, to unify, and become one. It facilitates individual cohesiveness.
I will also be working on a concerto for jazz sax great Bobby Watson—finishing a version for Wind Ensemble, and also composing a version for full orchestra.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to my colleagues at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, and especially our dean, Peter Witte, who is an inspiration to me; I also want to say thank you to the American Academy in Rome for this amazing magical opportunity.
[Ed. Note: the four CDs issued thus far in Paul Rudy's 2012 Stories are available online at iTunes (and many other major download sites) and in hard copy from Aucourant Records.]