Part 2

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

JB: I can’t separate the two. To me, composition is thinking in sound, about sound, around sound, through sound, and forming those sound thoughts into a piece of music. I never compose without being conscious of orchestration. Timbre is too central to the way I hear music. For my works with live electronic processing (like Post-) I often start by creating processing chains to form a sonic menu to pull from. The experimentations with timbre influence the notes, which influence the timbral exploration, which influences the notes, which influence…etc..

In fact, unless I am working with film or theater, or working with lyrics, I am making music about sound. I do not set out to depict a particular emotion, narrative, or theme–which is not to say my music isn’t emotional. It all begins with sound. I am endlessly fascinated by that mysterious process by which initial sonic experiments gradually take form and become imbued with layers of meaning; how the pushing around of air molecules in audible frequencies becomes emotion once the circuit is completed by the presence of the listener. That ambiguous in-between space where my sounds meet the lived experience of the listener to wrap around one another is where the magic lies.  

DF: Yeah, as a pianist, I am hyper-attuned to how different the quality of sound can affect our response to underlying music/sonic structures. Something unusual about being a pianist is that we never perform on our own instruments – each performance requires a sort of reinterpretation of whatever music we’re planning to play based on the particularities of the instrument we will be playing it on. In other creative projects not involving the piano, I’ve often been drawn to sonic materials that aren’t conventionally thought of as musical instruments. The way that we think of sound and the way we think of music and its capacity to communicate ideas or meaning are really intertwined, I think, and it’s often counterproductive to try and separate them.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?

DF: Collaboration is SO important for me. Circling back to the queer thing a bit – in queer relationships, you’re really starting with a blank slate every time. There aren’t default roles and expectations that serve as a potential point of departure (whether you’re embracing or rejecting them). I think this idea of building a relationship as a creative process really influences the way I approach artistic collaboration. Knowing that different people can pull different things out of me (and vice versa) can be really generative, and I enjoy the serendipity of that process, the feeling that you’re leaving a little space for the universe to chart the course.

JB: Collaboration is huge for me too.  A large part of my artistic career has been involved with interdisciplinary collaborations. I place a huge value on what I learn about my art form from working with other forms.  However, even when I am just writing a music piece, the collaborative element of working with the players is one of my favorite parts.  I often experiment with how much information I can leave out of a score–making sure I have everything I deem absolutely essential represented–but leaving room for the player to contribute their voice.  I want to see what they make of it without my micromanaging.  In any collaboration, it can be uncomfortable to remain open to others’ input, but doing so can reveal possibilities that I hadn’t seen, or it can further define my original thought.  The back and forth interaction with collaborators about work I am making deepens the process in such a beautiful way and spurs personal artistic growth. As far as my preferred way of engaging with other creatives, I try to always ensure that I am empowering my collaborators, giving them agency and making them feel valued.  Not only is that simple respect, but it garners the best results too!

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

DF: For me, there is no routine! I think one of the big challenges of sustaining a career in music is being able to be mentally ok with a degree of fundamental uncertainty and constant change. While music and the rest of my life are inseparable on some basic level, I do find it really necessary to be able to step in and out of the role of ‘musician’ depending on who I’m with and what I’m doing.

JB: Same.  No routine, and I love that.  There have been periods of my life when I’ve had more of a routine, and I dislike it.  Any day involves a potential mix of composing, teaching, playing music, resting, watching Netflix, reading, socializing, “wasting” time.  I like that each day is different, and I embrace uncertainty and change from day to day.  That being said, I’m lucky at this point in my life to have what feels like a good balance between stability and flexibility.  I neither try to integrate nor separate music from other aspects of my life.  It just is.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

DF: Post-, our recent album for New Amsterdam Records, feels like a huge breakthrough for me. A big part of my background is capital-C Classical, capital-C Conservatory training, but I have felt a big disconnect between aspects of that training and the historical baggage that comes with the idea of ‘the solo piano’ and what feels relevant and interesting to me as a human being alive right now. Post- grapples with this tension, investigating all of these different aspects of what a solo piano can be and do right now, in our increasingly digitized society. The music that became Post- started as part of a new dance project with Brian Brooks Moving Company in 2017. As it spun off into a purely musical project and then continued to develop through the long and strange COVID lockdown period, a lot of the themes we were working with just became more and more relevant – how digital technology has become inseparable from our human relationships and our sense of ourselves in the world, how investigating aesthetics that obscure the lines between the acoustic and the electronic opens up new realms of experience, and how chaotic and disorienting the relationship between past, present, and future feels at this particular moment.

JB: There are many important moments in my career, but I am going to second David on this one.  Post- feels so important to me too.  On our recent tour, we played venues ranging from university recital halls to makeshift performance spaces to music clubs, to theaters.  It was so interesting to see how each venue, each sound system, and each audience shaped our performance.  We played 6 different venues in 10 days, and seeing the piece live in different ways in different spaces, and resonate with so many different people was really meaningful.  I can’t wait for more performances!

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

JB: I think one of the most important skills any creative artist can cultivate is the ability to work, no matter the state of mind (excepting certain extremes, naturally). I’ve never experienced writer’s block. It’s not that I’ve never been stuck with where to go next, but I can always sit down and create something. It might be gold, or it might be garbage. Often it’s somewhere in-between.That step of getting something down on the page, bringing something into being is a wonderful trick to open the doors. Once you’ve got something existing, you can mine it for ideas, or reject it and base your next steps on why you rejected it. I think it’s also valuable to remember that there are many ways and scenarios in which it’s possible to work. Time spent away from my studio, letting concepts and ideas ruminate in my brain is a vital part of the process.  A strangely large proportion of my creative ideas begin and develop in the shower. As far as distractions go, we live in an era with unparalleled distraction potential. It’s important to use whatever hacks you need–disabling notifications on your computer and phone, etc.–to be able to accomplish what needs to be done. The other simple advice is take breaks, and when you do, leave the room in which you are working.  Going outside is ideal.  

DF: To a certain extent, it’s out of our hands. Often the very best performances are almost like a blackout experience where you seem to transcend your own physical body and don’t remember much about it afterwards. And sometimes the best creative ideas come out of nowhere (like in the shower!). With that said, I think that being in the moment tends to foster good outcomes, creative and otherwise. Distractions are really an effort to escape the present, to run away from what is. If what that present is is playing the next lick in your performance or figuring out the next gesture in the piece you’re working on, devoting anything less than your full attention to it will make it less likely that you have the best outcome. With that said, sustaining that level of intensity is impossible all the time, and taking breaks (both at the micro and macro levels) and structuring variety into your process/daily schedule are important ways to avoid burnout.

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