Brief interview with Anton Lukoszevieze

Why did you choose to commission a piece from Jim O'Rourke for Apartment House, and how did you know his work?  


I have known of Jim for a long time, mainly through his work with Merce Cunningham’s dance company, who I also performed with at the very end of their time. But I had never actually explored Jim’s own work. I came across the work String Quartet and Oscillators and was rather taken with it, and I wrote to him asking if we could perform it, as we subsequently did. I then asked him if he had any other scores I could see and he sent me a solo cello piece and a new work for strings with audio playback, 12 Dollars is not a lot. Later on, he composed the new string trio on this album. Subsequently, I listened to more of his music and have really enjoyed it. He has a very particular sensibility and an acuity for creating sounds and musical episodes. I think of him very much as an experimental composer.

Can you describe the trio score Jim sent you, and how the piece works?

The score is a series of 48 single pages, each with 4 circles on, for violin, viola and cello, which are con sordini (muted). Each circle is a sound event, consisting of a natural harmonic (though sometimes an artificial harmonic can be played) which can be held for any duration. Within each circle are indications such as whistling, humming and singing combined with the bowed harmonics. Each player works around the page clockwise or anti-clockwise. Occasionally there are fermata (pause indications). The vocalisations are either in unison with the harmonic or intervals of a 4th or a 5th. Some pages are also repeated when indicated. Each circle represents the 4 different strings of the instruments. So, the score is like a permanent mobile of sonic events, creating unpredictable sustained harmonies. As a musician one is constantly listening, not reacting and reacting to the sound world one is within. Originally we performed a 15 minute version for the BBC radio, but I thought a longer version would be an interesting thing to try, and we did. I had no inkling whatsoever that Jim would send a score such as this! He is full of surprises.


Anton Lukoszevieze talks to Jim O’Rourke

Why did you write for a vocalising string trio?

A year or so ago, I was re-listening to a few choral works by Martin Smolka, who uses whistling a lot, and was struck by how such a simple and always “on hand” thing is rarely used, and it had stuck in my mind. When I started mapping out what I wanted to do for Apartment House, I was thinking a lot about the realities of rehearsal, rehearsal time, and how these all affect how to approach a score. With that in mind, I also wanted an element that offset the skill and care being taken in playing their instruments by asking AH to sing/whistle, something that is possibly unnerving.

You studied composition. Do you disregard everything you were taught, or was it helpful?

It was helpful both in the ways it is meant to be and/or in forcing me to define why I felt resistance to it.

How do you manage a multiplicity of activities?

I guess I just don’t think of them as a multiplicity, they all sum up in the same place.

What are your favourite TV series?

As a kid, Columbo and The Prisoner. Only in recent years have I caught up on some of the more recent series and I really liked The Wire.

Does studio-based production influence your compositions, or maybe not?

Absolutely, they all feed into each other.

How do you feel about duration in music?

30 years ago, when I first met Henry Kaiser, I was hanging out with him when someone came up to him and asked what time signature a particular Captain Beefheart song was in, and Henry answered “They’re all in 1”. That pretty much sums it up to me even now.

At this stage in your life do you think intuition is possibly the mechanism for creativity?

I have to admit that I don’t think about “creativity” or “expression” because I think these happen naturally whether you want them to or not. If anything, I think trying to be creative is a trap. I am probably more motivated by problems than by any desire to create.

Derek Bailey or John Fahey?

Well, Derek was and is a towering figure in my life, and my life would have pretty much not have happened if he hadn't shown kindness to a stupid kid.

Making tape loops is fun. It can be frustrating at times, especially when you have lil’ sausage fingers like I do, but still fun. Think of them like ships in a bottle, but for weirdos. And in the end, you have a tape loop instead of a useless ship in a bottle. Justin Lakes, who records under the name Shredded Nerve and operates the NYC based store Thousands of Dead Gods, has taken the hobby of making tape loops and upgraded that shit to a fine art (for weirdos). Using extra (sometimes WAY extra) pinch rollers and spools, Lakes transforms cassettes from machines to contraptions with meandering paths of analog tape. They are fucking gorgeous and available for purchase [email].

Listen to some of Lakes’ loops in action on “Failing to Maintain” while perusing some images of these juicy zig-zaggers.

Eli Zeger on the origins of a complex and conversational vocal technique, from its use by African Pygmies to appearance in modern contexts

The musical technique known as hocketing has been shaping creative processes for centuries, appearing in forms ranging from medieval classical music to contemporary indie rock and EDM. Hocketing either involves instruments taking turns playing discrete portions of a single melody, normally at a rapid tempo and in fluid succession, or two instruments playing in a call-and-response. A guitar, for instance, plays do-re-mi; a saxophone plays fa-so-la; piano finishes with ti-do and the cycle of instruments repeats. Whether listening to hocketing in headphones or hearing it played by musicians positioned at different points around a stage, the technique can make you feel like you’re inside the melody. Compared to counterpoint, which involves layering different melodies on top of each other, hocketing is essentially a fraction of the work, with the goal being singularity rather than plurality. It’s a device based on dialogue: If counterpoint is multiple voices talking over each other, then hocketing is conversational.

Although widely believed to have originated in medieval classical music, hocketing actually dates back to African music from over 80,000 years ago. It began as a solely vocal tradition, practiced by the Central African Pygmies in tropical forests and the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, according to musicologist Dr. Victor Grauer in his “Echoes Of Our Forgotten Ancestors.” Just as medieval composers evidently never interacted with hocketing peoples in Africa, to the point of presuming they invented the form, the Pygmies and Bushmen evidently never interacted with each other. Yet both African peoples hocketed specifically in their vocal ensembles and for the same symbolic purpose, in Grauer’s words, of “echoing forgotten ancestors.” Early hocketing eventually translated to instruments. Ghanaian flutes, called atentebens, didn’t have a definitive model – they were made of different materials and varied in shape and size – but were each confined to a single octave range. In atenteben ensembles, whether or not limited octave ranges were deliberate, they were compensated for by the timbral variety of hocketing with multiple flutes.

Guillaume de Machaut - Hoquetus David

Hocketing was first transcribed in formal compositions from the 13th and 14th centuries, appearing in pieces such as “Manere,” written by the composer Anonymous of St. Emmeram, and in “Hoquetus David,” by the French composer Guillaume de Machaut. Whether performed as a capellas or with traditional medieval instruments, both pieces demonstrate the technique specifically in their upper-voice parts, intertwining varied patterns of whole notes, half notes and rests in order to achieve the fractured sonic effect. It’s this transcription that has led to the assertion that the form came first from these classical styles, and not Africa. In addition to sheet music, not only was the term “hocket” first recorded in European archives (albeit in a slightly alternate spelling), but the general maintenance of exhaustive institutional documentation written in Latin is what legitimized the European composers over the African ones. Anonymous of St. Emmeram first described hocketing in a treatise from 1279, now preserved as a manuscript, that was published by the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In Africa, though, hocketing was not documented in text, but in the live performance traditions that had already existed for hundreds of centuries prior to Anonymous and his ecclesiastical ilk.

How did separate musical cultures, thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart, with no record of direct interaction, manage to develop such a similar-sounding technique? It’s likely to do with a shared, innate desire for practicality. “It seems to me that hocketing is a natural solution to the problem of how to arrange melodies among multiple vocal parts, so my guess would be that it was invented independently,” Dr. Patrick Savage, a musicologist at the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus, writes over email. “If so, then medieval Europeans could be excused for thinking that they originated hocketing, since they might not have known about African hocketing. It is less excusable for modern scholars to make this claim, since they should be aware of African hocketing, but unfortunately there is still much Eurocentrism among musicologists.”