Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Checking in with Aaron Cassidy & Diana Soh

So many amazing composers have made their way through the composition program at UB.  This week we thought we'd check in with two former UB composers, both of whom are continuing to work on exciting projects and writing compelling music.

Aaron Cassidy graduated from the PhD program in 2003, and has been based in England since 2007 where he teaches at the University of Huddersfield.  At Huddersfield, Cassidy is the Research Coordinator for Music and Music Technology, and part of the Directorate of the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM).  In addition, he was recently promoted to Professor of Composition, and you can see his Inaugural Professorial Lecture, "Imagining a Non-Geometrical Rhythm," below.  "[It's] a very British affair," Cassidy says, "I did at least forgo the usual tradition of doing the whole thing in academic robes."

Cassidy's music has been programmed by a number of internationally-recognized contemporary ensembles, including friends-of-the-Center Ensemble SurPlus, Talea Ensemble, JACK quartet, and LoadBang's Jeff Gavett, and has been heard at renowned festivals including Donaueschingen, Gaudeamus, Dark Music Days, and June in Buffalo.  Recent performances include the premier of his The Pleats of Matter by Chilean guitarist Diego Castro in February at the Electric Spring Festival.  The work, for solo electric guitar with three outputs and electronic processing, takes its title from the first chapter of Delueze's The Fold.  "It is a work in which overflowing trajectories of material and process collide, overlap, collapse, and slide, where strata melt and rupture and deform, and where form and shape are only the final byproduct of lines folding into one another."  Commenting on the nature of the instrument itself, Cassidy explains, 
The electric guitar, perhaps more than any other instrument, involves a massive chasm between the physical process of sound production and the actual sounding result.  The instrument includes the ability to separate thoroughly the physical from the aural, with sound distorted and refracted and disembodied through any number of layers of electronic manipulation.  This work aims first to push the lacunae of this separation to their limits, and second to envelop and embrace these gaps as being part of the essential and fundamental character of the instrument.
As can be seen in the video below, Castro is presented several significant performative difficulties, as the player is required to traverse the entire topography of the instrument, while also maneuvering two foot pedals.  "The nature of the work’s approach to the instrument—in which both hands can potentially occupy any location on the strings or fingerboard, either hand might be plucking or depressing or striking the strings, and either hand (and, occasionally, the elbow!) might have responsibilities for moving the tremolo bar—means that there are logistical questions and fingerings to untangle in almost every bar."

Cassidy's current project is a 35-minute double trumpet concerto for Tristram Williams, Peter Evans, and ELISION (five players and multi-channel electronics).  The wreck of former boundaries includes short, extractable solos for electric lap steel guitar & electronics, double bass, clarinet, saxophone & electronics, and trombone & electronics.  Cassidy spent a week in September working in creative development sessions with players from the ensemble, focusing on ideas which draw on the rhythm experiments discussed in the lecture above.  With a premiere scheduled for Fall 2016, it's sure to be an exciting addition to the repertoire!

Diana Soh
Diana Soh graduated in 2013, and has been busy with many projects ever since.  Upon leaving Buffalo, she relocated to Paris, where she spent two years at IRCAM for the Cursus 1 and 2 program, and served as composer-in-residence at the Conservatoire D'ivry sur Seine in partnership with La Muse en Circuit—the latter of which ended with her first portrait concert at the Festival Extension.

Widely recognized for her work, Soh was recently selected to participate in the Helsinki Chamber Choir's Rautavaara Workshop, where she will have the opportunity to work closely with the ensemble during a November workshop, in preparation for a piece which will be premiered next summer.  She was also selected to take part in the upcoming impuls Composition Workshop in Vienna and Graz with Klangforum Wien, and will be writing a piece for the ensemble which will be premiered at the impuls Festival in 2017.  Finally, her work Arboretum:  of myths and trees was a finalist for the 2015 Musical Composition Prize of the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monacco.  The work, a setting of a text by UB's own James R. Currie, is an exploration of the duality of musical gestures between what is seen and what is heard.  Composed for soprano, 2 flutes, harp, piano, and electronics, the piece uses motion sensors, which allow the soprano—through a series of composed gestures—to control and interpret the electronic treatments of the harp and piano.  "This use of such technology is also a way of returning the autonomy of the electronic processing back to the performer," Soh explains.  "The composition of the music and gestures are, naturally, subjected to the psychological states of these mythic characters Daphne and Apollo."  Listen below to a recording by Ensemble Court-Circuit and Elise Chauvin.

Recent performances included the April Forum neuer Musik, where Ensemble Phoenix Basel played a revised version of Soh's Incantare:take2, and the March performance of … // …, an orchestral work commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore and played by Orchestre symphonique de Bretagne.  Check out a recording of the former below:

Soh's current projects include an installation with the American video collective, Openended Group (scheduled for Summer 2016 at IRCAM), and two premieres in the spring:  anew work for solo Noh voice to be performed by Ryoko Aoki in Japan (February 20), and a new chamber ensemble work to be premiered by Ensemble Multilat√©rale in March.  It's sure to be an exciting year for Soh, who also recently became a new mom.  "[We are] very busy because our daughter's favorite activity is tearing up paper lying around the house!"

Congratulations to Soh and Cassidy for all their accomplishments and upcoming projects, we can't wait to hear what they're up to next!