Philip Corner is an American composer and founding member of Fluxus who has studied with composers such as Otto Luening, Henry Crowell, and Olivier Messiaen. He’s composed numerous works for piano, resonant metals, and more. In light of his new release on Recital, Joshua Minsoo Kim talked with Philip Corner on the phone via Skype on August 27th, 2020 to discuss his interest in dance and architects, the composers he feels closest with, and his love for François Couperin’s The Mysterious Barricades.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hello! Can you hear me? Sorry, I’m a little late.
Philip Corner: Yeah, I can hear you.
Good, perfect. Sorry. It’s a little early, I needed to make sure I had everything right with my phone’s settings. I just wanted to say thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it. I’m a big fan of your work, so this is an honor for me.
Well I’ve heard good things about you too!
(laughs). How has your day been? How are you doing?
You know, I’m fine. I’m very happy to be in Italy. I can go out and have a—this morning I went out and got a prosecco, I usually have an iced coffee or something. I go out with my wife in the morning and sit at a café outside. That’s permitted with face masks and spatial separation. Aside from that we don’t go anywhere. I’d like to go visit family in Amsterdam but I can’t go because I’d be afraid to come back—or not be able to come back—into the country. Traveling across borders can be difficult, but we’re not anxious to do any travel. Basically I’m just hanging at home, and yeah, I’m doing some stuff.
That’s good. I wanted to ask, I’ve been curious—your wife Phoebe [Neville], how did you first meet her?
Before I answer, can I ask you why you’re interested in that?
Well, I guess, for my interviews I like to ask questions that are more conversational in general—
I’m kind of resistant to anecdotal details.
Okay, no problem!
Personal things—I find most of that irrelevant. In a certain sense you can say very simply that I met her in the context of the Judson Dance Theater, so that brings us together aesthetically, acoustically, and physically.
She’s been a dancer and improviser and choreographer. That connection comes way way back to the early ’60s on a professional level. Then it just kind of grew over the years into something more. The funny thing is that I’ve never written anything for her, in the sense of writing music for her choreography. She was really mostly a choreographer. I was doing these improvisations and I went through a long period when I was doing a kind of at-home improvisation every day, like a meditation for myself or for whoever else that wanted to be there. I had several private sessions with Phoebe where I improvised and she would, in a spontaneous way, do what you can certainly call improvised movement.
Then we developed that. She was the first person I had ever done anything like that for in a more developed, professional sense. We did something at The Kitchen; that was the big coming out of my private improvisations. After she came to Italy we were especially doing a lot of things where she improvises and I improvise with her. We hadn’t done that for quite a few years, but there was a time in the early ’90s where we were doing it a lot in Italy. When I went back to New York there were a whole bunch of dancers I worked with there. We would all get together and Phoebe would dance with some of the other dancers. So that’s the connection.