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Volume 9 Issue 7 - April 2004

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-Q.faiJ,MJ;i,,14,iMJ,MJ;- PART ONE OF AN 1.NTERVIEW WITH Gary Kulesha MARCH 2004 by Paul Steenhuisen Gary Kulesha has long been a contributor to the Toronto and Canadian music scenes, as composer, conductor, teacher, and i~ various administrative roles. His upcoming activity includes a July return to the Banff Centre as Guest Composer, a new Trio for Hom, Violin, and Piano for the Winnipeg Chamber Musi~ Socjety, and the composition of his S1cond Symphony, to be prem1erft[ by Oliver Knussen during the TSO's "New Creations" Festival in _ March and April of 2005. Jn the first installment of this two-part interview, we discuss ~is music and creative process, while in the second (to be printed next issue), we tackle other topics, such as his responsibilities with the Toronto Symphony, and his views on being a Canadian composer. STEENHUISEN: When banning Jean Cocteau's J 929 film The Seashell and the Clergyman, The British Board Of Film Censors said 'This film is apparently me~nin?-. less, but if it has any meanmg lt is doubtless objectionable. ' Cocteau, on the other hand, described this and other films as "a petrified fountain of thought. " !t mn~ seem unusual to begin your mterv1ew with a statement about film, but I know that you 're well versed in. this medium, and seem to take m­ spiration jrom it. How do~s cinematic art inform your music? KULESHA: I was very deeply influenced by film when I was younger, but it's not so much the case anymore. The earliest impact it had on me was in the way of structure and my earliest memories of th~ greatest films that I've seen are all about the way in which they manipulated time, and all about concepts of simultaneity and multiple perspectives. This is also kind of cubist, so it's interesting that you mention Coc_teau. In particular, I remember bemg deeply impacted by a movie called fl conformista (1970), by Bernardo Bertolucci. It still seems to me to be a completely brilliant approach to structure, in that there are two streams of events unfolding simultaneously .. the present and the past. The way he intercuts them, they gradually switch places, so when they meet, that becomes the present, and from that moment we move into the future. I remember being so struck by that. It occurred to me that structural control in music has a lot to do with the flow of time and multiple perspectives and I became very intrigued by shnultaneity, time compres~ion, and intercutting. All of those things led naturally toward composers like Ives and Carter, and I became interested in trying to apply those things to some of my own music. Ultimately, that led to having two concluctors in my Symphony. The structural procedure of film is central, as well as the plasticity of it; and the way in which it deals with time. I wrote a piece for the Tol'onto Symphony called The True Colour of the Sky, and the image that I had in my head throughout the entire composition of the piece was a moment in a movie called The Right Stuff, which is abo~t the early space program. The pilot manages to get his jet just above the atmosphere, and as he's getting above it, the colour of the sky changes completely, and he begins to see stars. That image really struck me. It's not at all uncommon for me to . maintain rmvie images like that in my head forever. The way ?1ey impact me is sometimes very direct, as it was in that particular case. STEENHUISEN: So it's a technical influence, as well as narrative, and imagistic. KULESHA: Yes , but while this is true, I· think that an artist emerges through the combination of psychological factors that create our unique pers6nalities. I don't think you can be a musician first an_d a human being second. So the Impact that both film and poetry had on me was more about me maturing as a human being, and me coming to understand myself, and perhaps to question my o~ role as an artist and human bemg. That probably had a far deeper impact than the technical side ~f film. In that sense, literature also mfluenced me. There are books that literally changed my life. It's safe to say that we're a product of everything that we absorb as we're developing and continue to live and grow. · STEENHUISEN: Can you give a few more detailed examples of 20 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE , COM how film has influenced your music? I'm thinking specifically of Book of Mirrors, your Second Essay for Orchestra, and Syllables of Unknown Meaning. KULESHA: The influences range from fairly arcane to fairly trashy. The Second Essay for Orchestra came about as a result of my admiration for Coppola's Apocalypse Now, which is based on Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness. I was trying to explore how we can be drawn toward the dark aspects of our own nature, and that it may or may not be controllable. The difference in that piece is that I assert that there are things that continue to make us human. It's also influenced by my ~eadings of T .S. Eliot. He dealt with 'the same things, and found a way through the darkness. . Book of Mirrors came about directly as a result of Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books. I was struck by the image of the book of mirrors that comes up in the film. I saw it and thought 'That's a piece of music'. Because my music is based on argument and developmental process, each mirror reflects the primary material, which has been modified to suggest what the mirror is. It's a semi-programmatic concept, although at times it gets quite abstract. It's a ~ontinuous variation principle that agam suggested strong structural procedures to me. The ending is an enigmatic and epigrammatic series of mirrors, the meaning of which is not known. It also relates to a film by Luis Buiiuel called Tristam , the end of which is a flash recap of the whole rmvie in a series of very brief still images. It's a technique I also used in my Concerto for Bass Clnrinet, Marimba, and Orchestra. Syllnbles of Unknown Meaning is sort of a trashy story. I was commissioned by Vancouver New Music to compose a piece for the millennium. Ten composers were commissioned and each was supposed to choose, and deal with, a century of the last millennium. When Owen Underhill asked me which century I wanted, I said I didn't really care. Needless to say, I got the first century, bec~use nobody knows anything about 1t. I began to poke around the writings of the day - there's not a whole lot of music, a few chants and things. One of the things that was happening at the time was experimentation with notatio~. Back then there was no standardIZed notation, and it was highly variable from composer to composer, region to region, and there was a lot of learning by rote. I discovered a beautiful and famous little chant by Hennannus Contractus (Hermann the Cripple, 1013-1054), entitled Almn Redemptoris Mater. It's even mentioned in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I had the idea to reprocess this chant into a ge~uinely contemporary piece ofmus1c. By a technical trick, I derived a twelve-tone row from it, and I treated the material partly as chant, and partly in ,a very strict seri~l manner. I was driven by an image from a John Carpenter horror movie called Prince of Darkness, in which Satan may or may not be in the basement. He may or may not be about to emerge and assume c~ntrol of the world. The people who are there researching this are having strange dreams of him emerging, and it turns out that it's the people of the futur~ who a:e beaming back information, trymg to warn them, but they can only reach them in their dreams, through a tachion beam. I had a very strong notion of being asleep, of dreaming, and having Hermannus Contractus beam his message forward to me, but only in a dreamlike state. So the whole piece has this quality, in which hallucinatory fragments of the chant circle around clouds of twelve-tone and totally atonal passages. The original image from the movie is kind of cheesy, but the piece itself is very delicate. STEENHUISEN: Although you 're very interested in film, you 've written only a smnll amount of film music. Why? KULESHA: I have a friend who was a student at the same time as me, and when he was taking a film course at York, I was very much involved with the films he was making, and I scripted and directed a few, and acted in one. wrote the scores for those tiny little movies. I also grew up with a guy named Blaine Allan. When he made his first feature-length film You are not alone, he asked me t~ do the score for it. That's the total extent of the work I've . done in film. I worked at the Stratford Festival for many years, providing music for th~ir ~roductions, and while I don t mmd being an assisting artist, if I have a choice, I'd prefer not to be. Although it's perfectly alright to be part of a creative team,_ and I've enjoyed working on things as a APRIL 1 - MAY 7 2004

co-producer, it's much more satisfying to work on my own projects, with my own parameters. I consider myself almost lucky that nobody has asked me to do any more films. The other thing is, there are people who do film music really, really well, and I'm not sure that I do it that well. Drama is one thing, and fihn is another thing altogether. I think it takes a very special kind of discipline, and a special sense of what's required. Mychael Danna, who does the music for Atom Egoyan, or Howard Shore - these guys really know what they're doing. My specific interests are not in thirty-second cues, or mxxl music. I admire it very much, but it's not for me. STEENHUISEN: Despite your interest in a modern medium such as film, many titles of your work are taken from older, clnssical forms. For exnmple, you have pieces called tocatta, symphony, sonata, concerto, etc,, and often use traditional instrumental groupings. How do you rec­ . oncile your respect for tradition, and interest in the modem? KULESHA: My output has been extremely schizophrenic. In my youth (and here I'm quoting Lutoslawski quoting Bar.tok), 'I did not write the music I wanted to write, I wrote the music I could write'. When I was young, and people . were asking me to write pieces, I wrote quickly. I wrote a lot of light music, and I was working in very traditional forms, attempting to learn my craft. There's a fair · bit of music in my output that is quite traditional, .and quite backwards-looking. I consider most of it to be light music. Most of the composers I admire have written light music, and I feel there is room for it in the world. At the same time, the structural procedures were attractive to me. I'm a very 'structural thinking' kind of guy. That doesn't mean I turn to traditional forms every time I write, bµt they are the forms that I continue to devolve back towards. beyond the title. I used the term symphony because I was trying to write something that I considered in the tradition of the symphony. I think of Busoni as being a kind of paradigm for myself. While I'm totally and completely interested in everything that's going on, · my own aesthetic is somewhat narrower than that. While I've premiered (as conductor) works using all kinds of aesthetic approaches, my own aesthetic is much more closely related to traditional music · and traditional fonns than a lot of the music I've conducted and promoted, and a lot of the music that my students write. I don't see any particular contradiction there, but in the end, my own work comes down to expressing me, although my interests are more broad and intellectual, or all-inclusive. STEENHUISEN: You said that you were learning your craft by writing more traditional music. Do you view that as necessary for younger composers? KULESHA: Hmmm ... necessary .. . well, it's how I was taught, and is certainly how I teach, but I can't make a sweeping generalization and say it's necessary'.. I think it's worked for me. As you know, what we struggle with as composers is some kind of line, some kind of through-put on the piece. The piece has to go from the beginp.ing to the end, and be somehow convincing. When you're young, and learning, the obvious thing to do is to imitate, and that's what I did. Then you begin to discover how to write lines, and how to make structures that hold tog

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