Tag Archives: krausas

Exploring in Novels and Music

8 Jul
 NOTES FROM THE STUDIO:  Catalysis Projects’ Core Composer Veronika Krausas muses about the similarities of traveling and exploring in novels, on land, and in musical composition.

Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before…

The reason I bring up Star Trek, not because I’m a trekkie, although I loved the new movie with the cameo by Leonard Nimoy (always a hero – logical and mathematical) and did watch the series as a kid (Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scottie and the gang always kicked ass, just like Batman and Robin except in space), it’s the quote from the beginning of the show/film etc. that pertains to my blog this month.  …to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…

Right now I’m in the middle of two things:  I’m reading Embassytown, the newest work by one of my favorite authors, China Miéville and I’m writing a new piece.  Interestingly they both have something  in common – the process of acclimatization.

Miéville’s novel is set in the future and humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Diving into this novel is like arriving in a new city or starting a new piece.  There is little or no familiarity with things:  understanding the syntax of new words and ideas, the new streets and buildings, or the harmonic language of a new composition.  Your legs feel wobbly; your brain is in overtime to make connections and link concepts, ideas, notes, street names!

As the story progresses with these unknown words and concepts—that are slowly revealed or you have to work out for yourself—there’s a level of comfort reached when the comparisons turn to understanding. It’s like learning a new language – constantly translating words to English until they attain the status of becoming their own entity without being a comparison or needing a definition anymore.

I think about explorers first encountering a new culture and new language and new everything!   There was movie called the 13th Warrior a few years back and what I remember about this movie is one brilliant scene when the hero (I think Antonio Banderas) was thrown into a group of Vikings (or some bearded types) and didn’t speak their language.  It showed his progression of recognizing and understanding individual words and over time grouping them into sentences, and then into meaning.  I loved the way that the writers didn’t just assume everyone spoke English in Medieval Europe.  So it’s a process of acclimatization.

With writing novels (I’m assuming) or music (which I know) it’s the creation of a new universe and even in that creation there’s the period of acclimatization for your own internal understanding.  This is a tough period and often very elusive – nothing makes sense in your brain and very unrelated and strange things achieve great importance (such as the sudden need to clean behind the fridge).

Getting over that hump is a great relief and then links are made more easily and naturally (and who cares what’s behind the fridge … you can’t see it anyway!)

Kitchen Time

20 Feb

This week your friends at Catalysis Projects introduce the second in our series of new columns – brief notes  from the “lost and found” desks of our Core and Resident Artists. In these posts, our artists offer a glimpse into one of their interdisciplinary, collaborative projects, including artifacts from the flotsam and jetsum that litter their creative spaces. This week features our Core Artist composer Veronika Krausas’s musing about TIME.

Composers are constantly trying to evade the unstoppable regularity of time. We think about how to make time seem to slow or to go backwards or speed up, how to regroup time into different beats and meters or avoid those entirely. It’s interesting that on a personal level this has infiltrated my daily life.

No two clocks or time-keeping mechanisms that I own are ever set to the same time. My digital radio-alarm clock was purchased when I was a teenager – it’s brown and huge and has followed me from house to house over the years because, although it’s quite ugly, it always works. I set it 5 minutes faster so that I can accommodate the early morning snooze button ritual. The back-up, battery-powered little Radio Shack travel clock, that long ago lost its cover, is also not set at the precise time – usually 6 minutes faster so that the radio alarm clock can slowly let me wake up before the really annoying beeping starts.

My car clock I usually set about 5 minutes faster to make sure I’m on time for appointments. But it seems to slowly but progressively get one minute faster every few months. Maybe this is my car trying to help keep my brain agile so I have to continually calculate the proper time each time I’m driving. Venturing into the kitchen, on the wall is a 15-year-old-kitchen wall clock from Ikea. In the last few years it started to have its own mind. Towards the end of ‘its life’ it was mostly stopped, but sometimes it started clicking forward at a normal pace and once I even saw it click backwards. Basically, the time was never correct and the time on the clock became officially known as kitchen time. Venturing into the kitchen for many months, I always had the feeling I can only liken to jetlag. Unlike the car clock, where complicated mathematical calculations can be made based on the prior day to determine the actual time, such constants were never present in the kitchen. The kitchen clock had its own chaotic system. The last time I came back from Europe and was really physiologically jet-lagged, the added effect of kitchen time started to really screw with my mind and the perpetual time jet-lag that I was now continually experiencing was becoming a bit much.

So, I reset the car clock back to 5 minutes faster, the archaic radio-alarm clock is now set 3 minutes faster and the back-up travel, battery-powered travel alarm clock is 4 minutes faster (can’t give up my one minute snooze with the radio before the beeping), and I ordered a new kitchen clock on Amazon.com so now I don’t have that jet-lagged feeling when I go into the kitchen. The era of kitchen time has passed … for now.

PS:  Just noticed that since I’ve had the kitchen clock showing ‘kitchen time’ for so long, I still never quite trust the time I see on the new clock!

Waterland at PIE

6 Jun

BY VERONIKA KRAUSAS Last night PIE (People inside Electronics) had a concert at the Boston Court in Pasadena, in conjunctions with CATALYSIS PROJECTS. This marks our first performance event, and we are pleased to announce that it was sold-out show.

In the introduction, one of the two founding directors, Isaac Schankler, talked about the solitary existence of composers and mentioned that working with electronics sometimes gives composers a false sense of not being alone!

Composing, or many creative processes, are quite solitary but I think we often don’t realize this because our brains are so busy and entrenched in the process that it’s not until afterwards, when we look back, we realize that we were all by ourselves and spending perhaps too much time with just our own brains and thoughts and selves!

Then when the piece is finally performed, that sense of isolation really is front and center, because you realize it’s you and your music that’s going to be standing with your pants down in front of the whole audience!  I’ve had my share of wonderful and not so wonderful experiences but I have to say that last night, the premiere of WATERLAND was definitely in the “happy” category!

Waterland was originally an electronic work created in 1990 on some very forgotten and very long gone equipment in Toronto to accompany a great text by the Canadian writer André Alexis.  Aron Kallay (the other founding member of PIE) asked to perform the work but since it was on a cassette (last century’s technology and a very low quality recording) he offered to help me recreate it using LOGIC.  And poof, we did.  John Payne was amazing reciting André Alexis hallucinatory text.  The video was by fellow Catalysis Projects Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo and it was brilliant in its vividness and beauty.

So this solitary venture turned out into a wonderful collaboration with all sorts of amazing people & I think that this was a much less solitary venture than normal!

Make sure to check out PIE’s next concert in the fall.


Some thoughts about the LA Phil’s Americas and Americans Festival

6 May

by Veronika Krausas

In the last few weeks at the LA Philharmonic there has been the Americas and Americans Festival and it’s been quite the whirlwind. I’ve been really lucky to interview many of the composers and directors of many of the shows.  This past weekend I had the honor of talking with the Venezuelan director Alberto Arvelo (whose film A House with a View of the Sea was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and received 18 awards in more than 50 international festivals) and the oscar-nominated writer Guillermo Ariaga (whose films include Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.)

There were 2 things that really struck me.  One, is about education.  Arvelo also made the documentary on El Sistema, the Venezuelan musical educational system that our new LA Phil’s music director Gustavo Dudamel is both a product and advocate.  He talked so strongly about the need for art and music in our education systems and how it’s vital and our obligation to include them and not only to teach kids how to do things but also to teach them how to be happy.

The second thing dealt with nationalism. Ariaga recounted his experience when he was in Australia and how the aborigines there don’t mark their borders with lines and boundaries but rather they identify where they’re from by the types of songs they sing.  And he talked about how “Nationalism is not about borders but rather about imagination and the stories we tell!”

Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil’s music director, wanted this festival to link people together.  He said “so that borders dissolve, and we find those common threads and musical moments which unite North and South America as one.”    The energy of the concerts and the audience and the performers certainly accomplished that.

I love the idea of singing at a border and teaching kids to be happy and making sure stories continue to get told.

Afterthought:  The only thing I think they left out was some Canadian music …  hmm …

Guy Klucevsek – AMAZING ACCORDION!!!

19 Mar

by Veronika Krausas

Last night I attended one of the best concerts I’ve been to in ages!

Guy Klucevsek – one of the world’s most amazing accordion players/composers—had a small performance at a very lovely little spot in Culver City called the Royal T (good food too!) But back to music … I’ve been listening to this man’s CDs for about 20 years now – introduced to me by my old friend in Montreal, Francois Landry (who also turned me on to the Art Bears, Fred Frith and Godspeed You! Black Emperor).

Everyone was smiling at the concert – Klucevsek plays the accordion like a storyteller, a virtuosic storyteller. At intermission I introduced myself and was one of those embarrassing, slobbering groupie fans! He was lovely and charming and inspiring. Thank goodness for the accordion and Klucevsek.

Klucevsek is in LA recording a soundtrack for John Williams and the new films about Tin Tin by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg.

I can’t recommend Klucevsek’s music enough. I’m still smiling! Here’s his website & myspace info:



And here’s a picture from last night with Jeff Gauthier (organizer of the event and himself a super duper violinist and composer, head of Cryptogramophone Records), GUY KLUCEVSEK, and yours truly (smiling ‘cause the music was so great).



15 Mar

by Veronika Krausas

One of the things that always fascinates me is comparing music to food! This weekend I lectured at Disney Hall for the LA Phil’s concert that included the delightfully poetic 5 Elements by contemporary composer Qigang Chen, Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben. It was a fantastic concert, conducted by Edo De Waart, the Dutch conductor who is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

The reason I bring up the idea of comparing music with food or, more specifically, beverages, is that a few years ago I picked up an interesting book “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage.

Since the LA Phil’s concert spanned three different musical stylistic periods I wonder if these works can somehow be explained in terms of Standage’s ‘liquid’ classification system?

In his book Standage traces the history of the world through beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola. He starts with the rise of farming, when surplus grain was saved and sometimes fermented into beer. Then, was the time of the Greeks who took grapes and made wine. Next, Arabic scientists experimented with distillation and produced spirits, the ideal transportable drink for long voyages of exploration. The next liquid that spread from Arabia to Europe was coffee, for the Age of Reason. The British industrial revolution followed, with tea being in the foreground. And, finally, the rise of American capitalism is mirrored in the history of Coca-Cola, one of the 20th century’s most mass-produced global commodities!

Although the Age of Reason started in the 17th century, its spirit of rational inquiry spread into the mainstream of Western thought over the next two centuries, culminating in the movement called the Enlightenment. It was at this time that coffee houses had established themselves as the political, social, and philosophical hubs of society. Standage called the coffee houses “the internet cafes” of their time – not only centers for commerce but intellectual thought! Coffee, as we all very much appreciate, gives sharpness and clarity of thought. Versus drinking wine or beer, which was common at that time, because it was safer than the often unsanitary water. This is the time of Beethoven, a known daily coffee drinker. Could we look at Beethoven as the COFFEE composer? Someone whose great sharpness and clarity forged new ideas from old?

While Beethoven’s piano concerto formally stays within a very classical tradition, he has some very careful and sneaky harmonic interconnections with the key areas in his piece that certainly required great clarity of thought. Also, his position was avant-garde for his time in that he deliberately wrote difficult music, requiring greater intellect and sharpness on the part of both performers and listeners.

Strauss would be associated with tea. At first this seems a little strange, he was from Germany after all and who in Germany (land of beer and Jägermeister) drinks tea? But if we think about the idea of expansion it may make a little more sense. From the mid 18th century, England was expanding its sphere and colonization was the norm. Tea, initially imported from China, spread throughout England and the world and became the most widely consumed beverage on Earth after water. Standage writes that the “story of tea is the story of imperialism, industrialization, and world domination.” So, in this arena of imperialism and world domination we have Strauss – both he and his music are HUGE – huge personality, huge pieces, huge forces, and huge orchestrations. Ein Heldenleben is epic, a 50-minute tone poem. It’s like a big pot of black tea that gets steeped for 50 minutes to really let all the tannins and flavors get everywhere. Also, when we consider this work autobiographic, then Strauss, the hero, is the imperial power, striving for musical domination! After all, he was not only a composer but also a conductor. So I’ll make him the TEA Composer.

This brings us the 20th century’s beverage that had its beginning in Leeds in 1767. Joseph Priestly, an English clergyman and scientist, became fascinated with the carbon dioxide gas that bubbled from the fermentation vats. At that time it was called “FIXED AIR”. This was the birth of our carbonated drinks. The rise of Coke or sodas corresponds with the huge industrialization, commercialization, and globalization of the 20th century. Sometimes a little pessimistically, we associate mediocrity with art or music that has those kinds of terms attached.

However, this globalization phenomena is the cross-fertilization of cultures and aesthetics to a degree that hasn’t existed in history before. The upside is that our ‘soda’ generation has allowed for the wonderful possibility of stylistic plurality (a term I’m borrowing from Leonard Meyer, the music theorist). The perfect example is 5 Elements by Chen! I realize he’s Chinese and you may ask why not make him the TEA guy, but his work so beautifully combines Chinese aesthetics and sounds with a Western musical harmonic world. His music is about stylistic plurality (a term I’m borrowing from musical theorist Leonard Meyer). We hear an eastern-sounding melody, Messiaen-like chords, washes of sound that evoke Debussy, gestures of notes that remind us of Ligeti, swelling ‘western orchestral strings, at times very traditional harmonies and, at other times, it’s something that’s much more adventurous even delightfully crunchy.

I’d like to use that lovely 18th-century term for carbonated water – FIXED AIR – and say that Chen’s 20th-century piece is the FIXED AIR, the soda that bubbles through our ears, while Beethoven’s concerto is a good strong cup of coffee, and Strauss’s tone poem is the finishing tea, perhaps Earl Grey (is that the most royal tea and domineering tea)? Next I’ll figure out the beer, wine and spirits!


PS:  I just ordered Standage’s new book from 2009, “Edible History of Humanity” … can’t wait to start comparing music and food!!!!