For New York City’s arts scene, the descriptor “melting pot” doesn’t really pass muster—it’s more a loose conglomeration of small communities, with substrata that seem only tenuously connected when you look closely. Contra the usually accepted idea of artists being islands unto themselves, the most important and engaging individuals are often those who serve a sinuous and binding role, i.e. those whose work within the field codifies a disparate mass into this thing that we call “the new music community”.
Chris McIntyre is one of those people. As a trombonist, composer, curator, et al., he’s integrated himself into the NYC music experience in a way that most don’t have the opportunity to—and it was mostly luck and happenstance that brought him there.
“Most everything that I do somehow relates to the trombone,” McIntyre explains, and it certainly serves as the germ for his career. His own instrument’s lack of prominence before the 20th century pushed him right into the arms of contemporary composers. That engagement as a performer led to an interest in curating, although again in a typically unromantic way: “I literally typed ‘music curator’ into Google, and the first thing that came up was The Kitchen.” His work at The Kitchen as Associate Music Curator helped propel him into his current role as artistic director of MATA, arguably the most important organization for putting on new music by young composers in all of New York.
From the start, all of his activities were integrated into something both general and specific: the interfacing of notation with improvisation or chance, whether it be Julius Eastman, Earle Brown, or the AACM. As almost seems inevitable, his interests would expose an aptitude for composition as well. And he seems like he’s been doing it all his life, with an unabashedly nerdy interest in the nitty-gritty details of form and pitch classes.
The first and most important piece was Stuplimity No. 1 for seven trombones. “It came at a time when I was working so hard on everything else, I just needed to start composing too,” he explains. “I was already thinking composerly thoughts all the time.” But it wasn’t just a new area of interest—the composition served as a synthesis for everything he was already involved in. Inspired by Sol LeWitt’s Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes, McIntyre created a graphically ensconced notation that allowed him to indulge his preoccupation with chance operations/improvisation using an instrument that he was intimately familiar with.
Since Stuplimity, McIntyre has continued to expand his compositional palette. Raster for quintet, one of his most recent pieces written for the ensemble Ne(x)tworks (with whom he plays), incorporates for the first time a strong rhythmic element into his technique, although everything is still kept loose and open. Groups of twos and threes are spread throughout the ensemble, resulting in a sound not unified but definitely not chaotic—”like you’re inside the nucleus,” as McIntyre puts it. Unlike his previous more modular compositions, Raster has a seamless and unrelenting form that pushes the listener through its entirety without a breath.
New York is always changing, and McIntyre has plans to change alongside it, expanding his compositional realm into soundtracks for films and installations. Still, one imagines that he will keep everything in his life tightly integrated. As McIntyre puts it, “I’m studying people doing work in the way that I’m trying to do work, while I’m playing it with other people. Somehow it all ends up being one life.”