Tag Archives: microtonal colors

MicroTextual Musings: Jeffrey Holmes Interview

1 Apr

Composer Jeffrey Holmes, Professor of Music at Chapman University, talks with Catalysis Projects about his unique harmonic landscape, microtonal colors, and making microtonality accessible to performers.

Jeffrey’s piece Fragments will be given its world premiere by soprano Katherine Giaquinto and pianist Aron Kallay at Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

JH-Art is communication between two (or more) thinking and feeling individuals.  Language is the basis of this communication.  For a personality to be expressed through art, a set of consistencies must exist.  These consistencies are what we call language.  In my music, this language takes on the form of a unique harmonic landscape.

We young composers face a formidable task…music of older generations shared a common harmonic and motivic language.  These composers that we now see as masters had the advantage of their language being immediately understood and therefore were able to insert several layers of ambiguity in order to create a multiplicity of levels of enjoyment upon repeated exposure.

When a modern composer expresses an individual personality through a unique harmonic language, they face the challenge of presenting their “new'” language in an obvious enough form to be understood, while at the same time one needs to add enough ambiguity to support the expression.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

JH-I compose microtonal music because it reflects the colors and timbres I have always heard in my head.  I never had the “ah-ha” moment as described in the question.  For me, a very specific type of microtonality has always been a part of my internal imaginative world of sound.

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

JH-I write microtonal music that I try to realize in as pragmatic a manner as possible.  The microtones are performed in different ways on different instruments, but only standard acoustic orchestral instruments are used.  The first manifestation of microtonality involves precisely notated divisions of pitch using alterations of fingerings on strings instruments, or adjustments of embouchure on winds and brass.  The second involves using a scordatura achieved by tuning natural harmonics  on harps, percussion, guitars, etc.  In all these situations, I have attempted to make microtonality as accessible as possible for performers that are using standard instruments and techniques.

CP-Here at Catalysis Projects, we believe that the collaborative process can lead us in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected directions.  Have you ever had a collaborative experience that led you to results you didn’t expect?

JH-I compose the exact expression of my creative imagination, then hand it over to performers to interpret.  For me it is gratifying when this non-simultaneous collaboration leads to a performer finding something or bringing something out in my music that I did not previously see or hear.  I hope that my poetic expression will remain, while the interpreter’s input will vary from performer to performer, and from performance to performance.