Interview of DAVID ROSENBOOM
I first met David Rosenboom in 2003 when we were colleagues at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts (at Bard College). David was lecturing on the co-creation of interstellar communication, introducing into his music interspecies collaboration. Wow, I thought, such a mind I had to stay in contact with, and so I did.
As I soon learned, David is a remarkable composer, performer, conductor, author, and educator, and a pioneer in American experimental music. Since the 1960s, he’s been actively investigating spontaneous evolution of musical forms, cross-cultural collaborations, new techniques of scoring for ensembles, performance art, computer music systems, interactive multimedia, compositional algorithms and extended musical interface with the human nervous system. He holds the Richard Seaver Distinguished Chair in Music in the Herb Alpert School of Music at California Institute of the Arts where he has been the Dean of the School of Music and conductor of the New Century Players since 1990. His work has been presented in numerous venues around the world, widely published, and recorded on a variety of labels, including New World Records, Pogus Productions, Mutable Music, EM Records, Lovely Music, Nine Winds Records, Centaur Records, and Frog Peak Music. His latest CD, "How Much Better If Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims," a double set published by New World Records (2009) is truly breathtaking.
At some point in our cyber-correspondence, David asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating on an opera, of sorts, that would use the Buddhist text "The Diamond Sutra" as its inspiration. And so we took the first step toward what was to become—about five years later—"AH!" opera no-opera, which was performed in REDCAT in Los Angeles this past September. "AH!" opera no-opera has exponentially grown and grown; sadly, there isn’t space available to write about its numerous co-creators, so please visit www.ah-opera.org to read more about the "AH!" team.
Bellen: Your musical work on "AH!" has been unique: you have been a composer as well as a compiler of ten other composers’ compositions, musical director, conductor, as well as a performer. (You also organized a slew of other things, such as robotic drums and a magic touch-top table, but right now I’d like to focus on your musical work.) Describe your experience of creating, collaborating, editing, and directing the music of "AH!"
More than a singular “piece,” "AH!" is a nurturant garden from which infinite realizations sprout. In its most recent manifestation, "AH!" morphed into being a creative community. Because "AH!" explores the nature of illusions separating people, my first challenge was to hold back from composing any music at all, until you and I felt we had sufficiently explored common origins among sound, language, gesture, self, and the philosophical underpinnings of our ideas. The life of "AH!" had to inform us as much as we informed it. This challenged the concept of composer as one person, composer separate from librettist or separate from whatever else. When the opportunity was offered to work with a group of young composer-performers from around the world with diverse cultural backgrounds, and an amazing group of collaborators from theater and interactive technologies joined us, the challenge broadened. "AH!" became an inspiring exercise in sensing when and how to be an initiator of action, a directing composer-performer, and when and how to act more invisibly as part of a larger maturing life form. With the international composer-performer group, this process began in a two-week workshop followed by a year and a half working remotely in virtual, electronic working spaces, exchanging ideas, sounds, scores, images, videos, musical plans, and variations on each other’s work. I made constantly evolving, working templates, while guiding, shaping, varying, composing, re-composing, and integrating many musical impulses into what became a composite, master score. All this had to be further shaped, edited, arranged, and assembled into a performance structure, which only became clear during the two and a half weeks of a second workshop preceding the world premiere in Los Angeles. Leading such a process requires making concrete yet open and inclusive designs, being ready to manage the aesthetically unexpected every day, honoring spontaneous inspirations springing up within the group, and compassionately insuring that one’s deeply contemplative artistic vision will help unify this emerging form. It’s an artistic process that also might beneficially inform our world today.
Bellen: Since I’ve known you, your music has taken you to many countries, including Indonesia, China, and Greece. And CalArts certainly teaches music from global perspectives and invites to its campus visiting musicians from around the world. How has cross-cultural musical traditions affected your fundamental musical outlook? Has globalization affected music across the board?
Absolutely. Fueled partly by electronic accessibility and partly by pure, innocent imagination, young musicians today give themselves license to draw inspiration from any culture, any style, any time period. Arbitrarily imposed adherence to stylistic lineages is “out the window” now, unnecessary at this point. At the same time, powerful disciplines that have grown over millennia from culturally owned—rather than individually owned—traditions are being increasingly revealed globally as opportunities for developing newly informed, substantive, artistic practices. I relish the delicious challenges found today in building musical forms that invite active, imaginative participation from all citizens of the cosmos to explore and create with each other’s musical languages in coherent ways. Far from resulting in musical salmagundi, when handled properly, these processes can reveal enabling commonalities and potent tools for building on differences constructively. What we are learning today about honoring and balancing diversity with unity is changing profoundly the nature of musical composition and performance.
Bellen: What forthcoming projects can we look forward to?
At the moment I’m working hard on several new recording projects that will make available some of my yet unreleased music from over three decades. I anticipate more manifestations of "AH!" emerging in the near future, and I’m always planning new performance projects, internationally and with multiple disciplines. In the background lots of writing is simmering away. Maybe a book or two will be in the offing some day. I’ll probably need your help.