Composer Bill Ryan had some time to talk to me about his new CD Towards Daybreak, which is about to drop on January 29th, and also the upcoming CD release party at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday, February 10th at 7:30 PM. Click here for info/tickets or on the link at the bottom.
CM: Can you please talk about the new album and its music? I understand the pieces are very personal for you.
Bill: It’s definitely a personal album, with the music being a general reflection of my life for the past several years. The most impactful events to me were the loss of both parents. A few pieces address that specifically, but that loss reaches into all the music on the CD. There’s also music that comes out of the joy of continuing to raise my three children, living in the midwest, teaching, and other things. I suppose that’s natural–that as one gets older and accumulates life experiences–that these events inform who you are and the work you do. For a long time though, I rarely set out to write a piece about anything except the sound. Now, somehow, life has a way of getting into the music.
CM: This new lineup of the group–I noticed there are some people I am very familiar with already. Todd Reynolds, David Cossin, Vicky Chow, and Ashley Bathgate, all amazing people and musicians!
Bill: Yes–they are all pretty great. I’m a big believer in team chemistry for projects, and after working with the players individually and in smaller combinations for many years, I knew that this band would be something special. This is music written specifically for them–for Todd and his playing and his sound, not just any violin. For Michael [Lowenstern] and what he does with a bass clarinet, not just any old bass clarinetist, etc. And one of the greatest things about them all is that they’re fun to hang out with AFTER the gig is over.
CM: What can we look forward to with this upcoming concert on 2/10 at LPR?
Bill: The LPR show is a concert to celebrate the release of the CD, out 1/29 on Innova. The group will perform selections from the CD, and a few tunes from our first CD (Blurred, 2004). We’ll be adding talented percussionist Doug Perkins to the mix so now a Billband octet. And of course, you’ll be able to purchase the CD right there in person.
CM: Your music is a really nice blend, or sort of bridging of jazz and new music, but do you see that as a sort of trending thing for composers in this period, or would you say this period more like the Wild West where everybody does what they do regardless (experimental, non-experimental, etc) ?
Bill: Ever since I started composing, even as an undergraduate in the late 1980’s, my music has sort of occupied a place between genres. I don’t consciously try to blend anything, I just compose and it is what it is. As far as what is generally going on today, there’s just so much. The whole indie-alt-classical thing seems to have some traction. I thought Allan Kozinn wrote a terrific piece about it a year ago in the NYTimes. Ever since the Bang On a Can All Stars hit the scene, unorthodox classical ensembles, infused with rock instruments and attitude, and corresponding music, have been pretty visible. And at the same time you still have traditional contemporary classical ensembles (in terms of instrumentation) like eighth blackbird and the Jack Quartet thriving.
CM: About the piece “Blurred”–Is this a reworking of the piece from the album with that name, and how much has it changed for you?
Bill: In a way each performance of “Blurred” is a reworking. When I composed it, I wanted to experiment with involving the performers more in my music, so they weren’t just reading notes, but making decisions in rehearsal and performance that would shape the music. The piece is for piano and any additional instruments, with the piano part the only thing completely notated. The rest of the performers read along and choose when to play, bringing out material already sounding in the piano part. So in effect, they’re orchestrating it on the spot. I wrote in a specific shape, but it is up to the performers to realize the colors and details of how the shape is achieved. On our first album we had slightly different instruments, and the performance is only about 4 minutes long. For the current album, which is actually taken from a live performance, the group beautifully expands the piece to 10 minutes.
Typical Music: Blurred (Live at Grand Valley State University, 9/28/12; Vicky Chow-piano, Todd Reynolds-violin, Ashley Bathgate-cello)