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sound investment with Hannah Lash

April 11, 2014

sound investment with Hannah Lash

photo New York Times

In LACO’s latest Sound Investment Salon on February 20, composer Hannah Lash shared insights about her approach to composing and her world premiere composition, This Ease.

On her approach to composing:
• If I were asked to write a piece for an event that involves four people then that might have something to do with how I approach the piece. But if it is something a little bit less specific, then if I really could tailor my piece to the hall or to the size of the audience then I could really limit the playability of the piece after the premiere. So I try to let it sit somewhere in a comfortable place where it can be done in various different contexts.
• I guess the thing that probably influences the way that I approach a piece more than whether it’s a commission or not is if I’m writing for, say a soloist that I know very well as a person. That will probably have a greater impact on how I approach that process creatively than anything. And you know, it’s a sort of a blessing and a bane to be able to write for your very close friends. Then you have a potential judgment (fall out). You don’t want that to happen.
• One of the parts of my job in the very beginning is to try and figure out how the material moves and what it needs to do. And for me, normally what happens when I play with an idea usually I’ll do that idea for quite some time before I commit to too much of the piece. Usually when I play with it for a while, what I’ll get is the first say four or eight bars of the piece that I feel really good about and from there I pretty much know how it will move. Of course there will always be those surprises because it’s hard to kind of preempt anything that might happen later on, and sometimes you know something will pop up that is a result of the potential that you might not have seen in the very beginning. So there might be something that feels like a gift that the material gave you that you had no idea was coming along.
• Despite the fact that I may have a pretty clear idea of the general architecture, some characters may emerge in ways that I never imagined. You start with an original idea and you know something may crop up later because you begin your interaction with other parts, and you realize suddenly a window opened up, and a whole bunch of lights spilled in. Then you want to highlight those things that are highlighted by the light somehow. And bring them to the foreground much more than you imagined in the beginning.
• I have to write the full score because the way the piece and the material work for me is so integrated in who plays the material that it would be very weird for me personally to conceive of an extract type of material than to score it. I just find that the surface of the piece is so connected to the background structure that I need to keep that sense of fluidity and connection throughout.

On her world premiere This Ease
• I certainly had a very strong feeling about This Ease. And I would say in all of my work, I have a very strong emotional feeling about it. I don’t necessarily want to label the emotion that I feel, it’s not necessarily sadness or lost or happiness or tension or any specific emotion. But I do find myself feeling deeply stirred by the material that I’m using. The fact that I have carefully decided to build something allows me to feel much more about it then if I were just sort of to make a “left to right” suite.
• The beginning starts out much more sparsely. The strings, the glockenspiel, the vibraphone, and then the harp begins to participate more. And then gradually the winds start to come in. So, there is sort of a variation of texture. In the beginning, as I say, it’s much sparser. And it doesn’t return quite to that amount of sparse until the end. So different instruments wind in and out.
• For This Ease, the idea was to set up a very fluid not so “beaty” feel and part of that I did by making that eight note grid in the glockenspiel in the beginning, which in some ways gives actually a much more disorienting feel than orienting because we just hear these little raindrops just going along.
• I have never really spent much time in LA before. And my wonderful hosts Allen and Anna have been helping me discover certain parts of LA and I have had a wonderful time driving around throughout the day and see various beautiful parts of it. So I am not intimately familiar with the feel of LA. But one thing that I felt very much about it was this kind of beautiful color a lot of beautiful color and in some ways kind of a “mutedness” to that color while has a certain bright quality. So the sound atmosphere that I started with, and it really retains itself throughout This Ease by reflecting that impression that I have.

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