Composer and co-founder of West 4th Molly Herron had a few minutes to spare and talk about some upcoming projects for the group, specifically the West 4th End of Summer Concert at Exapno on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 8 PM. As if that and several other things on her plate weren’t enough for her to keep busy, she’s also been picked as a 2012/13 Con Edison Composer-in-Residence at the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy.
I felt I’d be remiss if I hadn’t also asked her about some of her own works during our chat.
CM: What can we expect for the End of Summer Concert coming up?
Molly: The concert is made up of 4 sets. One is a set of chamber music with compositions by Matt [Frey], myself and Sam Crawford, who’s a great composer. Lisa Dowling [pictured right] is doing a solo set with pieces for double bass and voice. Don Bosley is doing a more plugged in set with electric guitars, strings, winds and drum kit that is a wonderful mash-up of different influences. The last set is a fun and exciting cabaret set being organized by Tim Hansen. It’s like a four-hour concert with these different sets.
CM: So, it’s going to be like a mini-marathon.
Molly: Yeah, and we got lots of beer and food to keep people occupied! Very similar to last year!
We’ve also been working on a collaboration with a dance company called BODYART, run by Leslie Scott–they’re a great company with fabulous dancers. We met with them and watched the dancers rehearse and present some parts of this piece that were already finished and set to music. Then we got to work writing music for the unfinished sections. It’s an hour-long work, and between us, West 4th has written about 20 minutes of music. In addition to the co-directors, we have included a very good friend of ours named Leaha Maria Villarrea. She is one of the co-directors of Hotel Elefant, and also a wonderful composer–she contributed to the writing. That performance is going to be October 4-6, 8 PM at Baruch College. Our music will be performed live by PUBLIQuartet. It has been a really interactive process between the composers and the dancers, and a project which I could not be more excited about!
CM: Can you please talk about the piece titled Pretty Machines?
Molly: That piece was written for a West 4th concert that was a commemorative concert for the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. It’s sort of programmatic, that piece, because all of the pieces in the program revolved around some issues related to the fire, and I wanted to focus on this issue of the transition of human labor from traditional models to the model of the industrial revolution, where previously, people had worked together in small groups or alone, working towards very direct things, working for food, working in the homes often, and then, suddenly you have this situation where not only are women, mostly young women taken away from their family units, at an earlier age than they would have previously, and thrown all together. Not only that, but they were also immigrants, and they were removed from their traditional backgrounds and history and treated like machinery.
It starts with a very machine-like texture, very repetitive, with lines that overlap one another, but all very consistent. And the singers are all singing versions of popular tunes of the time–One of them is “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine”, which is one of my favorite songs of all time–it was the most popular song of 1911. They sing those as if you were had it in your head working over the sound of the machines. This happens to me all the time, if there’s a hum or a machine-like buzz in a room or something, it makes me want to start singing over it.
The 3rd singer starts singing a traditional Jewish song–that was something I found and used the melody of, and as she sings that, the texture transforms, and is able to brake out of that machine-driven atmosphere through this traditional song connecting back. It’s sort of talking about the joy and enthusiasm of then-popular songs and contemporary New York culture, but then also connecting back to the traditional roots.
Molly Herron on the impetus for her piece Open Systems:
“Open Systems in physics are systems that are available for interaction with their environment. They have great potential for change and reaction. I structured this piece to depict atoms and their whirling electrons in the process of being affected by an increase in energy like an object being heated by an outside source. I use rhythmic and harmonic groupings to represent atoms, which interact with each other differently depending on their electric charge. As electrons jump between energy orbitals in distinct stages, sound waves produce harmonics in distinct ratio relationships. Each member of a string quartet is also an open system, as is a piece of music performed for a live audience.”
CM: We were both at Bang On a Can this year, and it would be great of you to give us your take on the marathon!
Molly: I had a great time! I always think the marathon is a wonderful thing, and the attitude that Bang On a Can presents is something that’s totally transformed my life in a way that really has nothing to do with music. Just basically “Go for it”, it’s just like, “Okay that’s good, let’s do it…Okay that’s good, let’s do it…Okay that’s good, let’s do it!” kind of mentality, which is so refreshing. As an artist, you can get kind of trapped in your head, and you tend to overthink everything, and holding everything back until it’s perfect, and when you are the kind of person who never thinks that it’s perfect and never thinks that it’s done, it can be totally crippling. It’s always so refreshing to be at their marathons because there’s this really joyful sense, and they just put it out there. It’s also the social highlight of the year, a great time to meet new people and get back in touch with other people. And of course, i was beside myself when we had our little Ruben [Naeff] on the marathon–It was so wonderful that they did his piece! It felt so wonderful to me, because those guys are so important to us, and then to get this chance to see that connection! It was really a wonderful experience, and I was so proud of Ruben!
Molly on “Clamber Up”:
“‘Clamber Up’ for two violins is an exploration of polyrhythms and modal tonalities. The violins are always just out of sync with each other and on each other’s tails, one clambering after the other both in terms of pitch and rhythm.”
West 4th End of Summer Concert
Sat, Sept. 22, 8 PM (Cover: $10)
33 Flatbush Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Also, October 4-6 at 8 PM, West 4th’s collaborative shows with BODYART and PUBLIQuartet at Baruch College. Click here for tickets.