Tag Archives: composer

Artist Feature: Kinan Azmeh

Kinan Azmeh is a clarinetist and composer we recently connected with through musician Timo Vollbrecht. Kinan grew up and studied music in Damascus, Syria, and has continued with his craft in New York City over the past 13 years. Throughout his interview, he discusses various strands of Reflection and Response, whereby artists sometimes reflect on their surroundings and on other occasions work to idealistically recreate realities. However, in Kinan’s opinion, art allows him to access another world of emotion not readily available in everyday life. Along with his words, this multifaceted artist showcases some incredible compositions that display his range and creative vision. He’s released three albums with his ensemble HEWAR, a duo album with pianist Dinuk Wijeratne, and an album with his New York-based Arabic/Jazz quartet, and the future is filled with some ill upcoming projects including a commissioned flute concerto, film scores, and tours in Europe, USA, and the Middle East. Peep the dialogue below along with some dope sonic landscapes from this dedicated craftsperson!

Kinan Azmeh | Photo by Jill Steinberg

Kinan Azmeh | Photo by Jill Steinberg

Making music is an act of freedom by default.

– Kinan Azmeh

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

KA: I was born in Damascus, Syria, and have been living in New York for the last 13 years.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

KA: If we think about it on the most general level then we do realize that this is how nature works, cause and effect, action and reaction. In the arts, reflection and response are a little bit more complex. There are several schools of thought when it comes to the arts, one that says that the artist’s role is to reflect on the world around him/her, others say that the artist’s role is to recreate the world in the most idealistic way. I don’t subscribe to either camp; my personal philosophy is that we make art to experience emotions that we don’t have the luxury of experiencing in real life, some kind of fantasy world that is more complex than what is experienced in our daily lives.

What have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

KA: I grew up playing western-classical music in Damascus, a city that is very rich and diverse in its musical traditions, then moved to New York. That opened my eyes (and ears) to a variety of music that I enjoy performing today. I have been wearing different hats at different times, sometimes playing as a soloist with orchestras performing western classical repertoire, at other [times] you would find me playing with my Arab-Jazz quartet in New York, and other times playing with electronics and visual arts. I am now at the stage where I am trying to bring all these heads under one hat. I am working now on a concerto for improviser for soloist and orchestra. I do feel that music is a continuum and I would like to [replicate] that in my musical life as much as possible. I have a number of projects that are coming up including a commission to write a flute concerto, a couple film scores, and also a number of tours are coming up in the US, Europe and the Middle-East.

Who or what inspires you?

KA: I am inspired by what’s around me, my life, the lives of others and nature. However, the main idea that is occupying my brain for the last three years is home, Syria. Since the revolution began three years ago, I started to wonder about the role of art: can a piece of music feed a child, can it stop a bullet? Certainly not. But it inspires me to know that I have the power to inspire someone else, to reflect and to think. I am also inspired by the belief that making music is an act of freedom by default, which continues to provide me with the tools to keep creating. The piece “a sad morning, every morning” was written to commemorate one year of the Syrian revolution in March 2012. The title says it all, you get up in New York, first thing you do is you turn on your computer and you “put your hand on your heart” as the saying goes, waiting for the sad news to come from home (since Damascus is 7 hours ahead). The piece was written in very little time and it gave me the peace of mind i needed at that particular moment. It was also the first piece I wrote after almost a year of a silence.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

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Artist Feature: Timo Vollbrecht

Composer and improvising jazz musician Timo Vollbrecht lives and works out of New York City and Berlin — collaborating with various musicians along with leading and performing with his own group. He discusses Reflection and Response as a multi-faceted concept, and highlights the subtle difference between creatively responding to specific experiences and responding to a collection of indistinguishable stimuli. Timo’s music represents the moment-based nature of improvisation as well as the decidedly trained character of composition. Check the dialogue and showcase of his work below!

Timo Vollbrecht

Some of my compositions are a direct response to an experience…Most of the time, however, my music responds to a conglomerate of different things that are often hard to distinguish. The beauty about improvised music is that you can respond to the very moment. This is what makes it so special – for musicians as well as for the audience.

– Timo Vollbrecht

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

TV: I was born in Stadthagen, a small town in Northern Germany. After living in Wyoming, Berlin, and Barcelona, I moved to New York in 2010. I am an improvising and composing artist, who plays saxophone and reeds. I live and workin between New York and Berlin, am involved in several projects and lead my own group.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

TV: Reflection can unveil your source of inspiration as an artist. If you take your time to reflect on your experiences in life, on your encounters with other people, their cultures, their points of view, your thoughts and especially your emotions and sensations, you have SO much to tell. The most important thing is to keep an open mind in life. Then, responding to your experiences in your art will happen naturally. If you are true to yourself, you will develop your own taste and thus, make your original musical decisions.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

TV: Some of my compositions are a direct response to an experience. An example is “Tale of Jordan”, which came into being during a Middle Eastern tour with my band. Among other places, we also played in Amman, Jordan, and took a bath in the Dead Sea. In Ramallah, during our concert on a roof top, the Muezzin next door started to chant and we spontaneously integrated his chanting into our free improvisation. “Tale of Jordan” reflects on these unforgettable moments. Most of the time, however, my music responds to a conglomerate of different things that are often hard to distinguish. The beauty about improvised music is that you can respond to the very moment. This is what makes it so special – for musicians as well as for the audience.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

TV: I have been composing music for my next album, which I will record in June, before taking off to an artist residence in Italy with my partner-in-crime, guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, where we will be working on a duo-program. Besides that, I am getting ready for a month-long European tour, which will start on April 3rd in Osterode, Germany, which happens to be my grandparents’ hometown.

Who or what inspires you?

 

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Artist Feature: Adam Hopkins

Adam Hopkins is a composer and bassist living in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn by way of Baltimore, Maryland. As part of thriving music scenes in his hometown and his current city of residence, Adam tells an artistic tale of people coming together to create great music and community. Some of the groups he’s involved with, such as Signal Problems, have been around for years and thereby boast a unique group dynamic and musical language developed over time, which add intricacies to their exciting improvisations. Here, Reflection serves as the collective memory of the artist, while Response is a collective sharing and exploration of each participant’s story through sound. In our dialogue below, Adam delves specifically into two tracks, Pogo Stick and We Turn Around, and presents a video of the Adam Hopkins Quartet. He stays busy in New York and has various upcoming records with the several bands he participates in as leader and sideman. Peep the conversation below!

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own…it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined.

– Adam Hopkins

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at? 

AH: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY–Ditmas Park specifically. I don’t think I’d normally mention the neighborhood as part of a response to this question, but I really love where I live! A lot of my closest musical collaborators live within 3 blocks of me, and also there are trees. Lots and lots of trees, which is a bit different for Brooklyn.

I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. I left for college and grad school, but found myself back there in 2005. I consider that time in Baltimore until I moved to NY in 2011 to be the most formative years artistically of my life to this point. The music scene in Baltimore, specifically the creative and improvised music scene, is very small but at the same time full of talented and inspiring people. We started a bunch of bands, wrote new music for them, rehearsed a LOT (something that is much more rare in NY currently), made records, and played shows. It was the best, now that I think of it. In 2011 four of us decided to move to NY from Baltimore, and settled into a house in Bushwick with a great rehearsal space in the basement. That group of people, who basically moved up on the same day, was already a band called Signal Problems led by my former-roommate-but-still-friend Danny Gouker. We continue to rehearse all of the time, and still play regularly. In fact we just released our debut album on pfMentum records which can be checked out right here: http://www.pfmentum.com/PFMCD080.html. There are no subs in the group ever, which has helped maintain it as an actual band and not just a rotating group of potential people. So, you know…Baltimore sticks together wherever we are. 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AH: As an improviser, reflection and response are at the very center of what occurs any time I play music, be it solo or with a group.

Reflection to me is everything that has happened in my life, musically or not, that has gotten me to where I am in that very moment. At my absolute best I am able to look inwardly and draw on all of those experiences to present a statement or vision that is uniquely my own.  

The response can be looked at from a number of angles, but primarily a response is what comes out of my instrument as a result of those experiences. Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own. It’s what makes improvised music like nothing else…we all bring our experiences from vastly different places to a performance, and as a group we find a way to make it work.

How does your work specifically fit in with that definition?

AH: This first track isn’t one of my own compositions, but I think it is a great example of this concept. It’s from Signal Problems, written by Danny Gouker who plays trumpet, with Eric Trudel on saxophone, Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums, and I’m playing bass. 

It is 30-seconds or so of written music and then we immediately launch into an improvisation. This band has been playing together for over five years, and we’ve developed our own sort of group language as a result. The entire improvised section is the band responding in the moment to everything going on around us. So again, it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined. 

This second track is a little bit older, but it’s one of my own compositions from 2011. It is a band that was started in Baltimore called Turn Around Norman, with Cam Collins on saxophone, JJ Wright on keyboards, Nathan Ellman-Bell (again) on drums, and myself on bass. 

There was a time when this entire band lived in New York as well, but life choices spread us out a bit and we don’t get to play together nearly as often as we’d like. It is a good example of my compositional approach, so I figured why not include it!? There is improvising in the track, but I think it is mostly influenced by the grunge rock of my high school years and my earliest musical experiences playing in dive clubs and wearing funny hats. There’s maybe a little disco at the end as well, and I’m not sure where that came from. It seeped into my musical being somewhere along the line. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: David Boman

I first met David Boman during college in Seattle jamming out with him rocking the drum set. His Feature with the LIFESTYLE has been a long time coming and David goes in- setting up a unique journey through the physics of Reflection and Response and the “allure,” of Response as a self-exploratory medium that elicits emotions from within us. From discussing the biological phenomenon of our reactions as people to music, Dave goes on to explain how his music is currently focused on the image- he currently has several soundtrack projects finished and coming up. Be on the lookout for more on these ideas and an in-depth discussion of pieces Overture (Save the Wails), Lowflyer, and his score to Handmade in our discussion below!

David Boman

Much like intermingling sound waves, personal reflection is constructive and destructive…The catch is that you don’t always walk away feeling good, the allure is that you always walk away feeling. Period.

– David Boman

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

DB: I am from Seattle and I am at Seattle. I was born and raised here, went to school here and work in the city. Next year I expect to be elsewhere for some time, very possibly Southern California…

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

DB: In physics, reflection is the propensity for sound or light to bounce off of a surface rather than to be absorbed by that surface. In audio production, we try to avoid this because sound waves that are reflected off of a wall, for example, can interfere with the sound waves coming from the original acoustic source destroying the quality of a recording. A technical (and pretentious) answer like that isn’t really relevant to the question, but it’s an interesting place to start; after all, when we put on headphones and hit play on our stereo, the surface of our eardrums rumble and vibrate, a signal to our brain is sent and processed. Consciously, something happens – it is absorbed and internalized, those of us who vibe with ‘The Metaphysical’ feel the melodies, harmonies, words and throbbing beats sink into our souls. Is that enough? Absolutely! Music is incredible, partly, if not mostly for exactly that reason. You don’t need to know a thing about it to feel its gravity, to be brought to tears or fits of erratic physical movement (shout out to the EDM guys) solely from the controlled vibration of some four-dollar ear buds.

Reflection is the optional step. It’s the part of the process that leads to response, which is the functional step. Much like intermingling sound waves, personal reflection is constructive and destructive – thinking deeply about what is being unearthed that is eliciting profound sensation; self-pity, inspiration, awakening, serenity. The catch is that you don’t always walk away feeling good, the allure is that you always walk away feeling. Period. It’s a product of all art, not just music – scratch that – it’s the product of being alive. Sometimes absorption and reflection happen simultaneously, but I don’t think the response part comes unless reflection has occurred. Response is reflection incarnate. It is the creation that spawns from pure or mixed up thoughts and emotions. It is the act of distilling those feelings through your medium; it is also the distillation itself.

How do ‘Overture (Save the Wails)’ and the score to ‘Handmade’ fit in with that definition?

DB: Beauty in everything. Overture (Save the Wails) is an ode to that sentiment; don’t make an item or experience trash until you’ve taken something from it. The idea was to take dissonant sounds, square synths, and harsh and heavy drums and set them to a pretty, bittersweet melody. It took a long time but ended up yielding one of my favorite tracks to date.

Another track, called Lowflyer, uses some familiar sounds to help set the atmosphere and encourage reflection.

I have been intrigued by film scoring since high school. The context given by a film clip provides reflective material that begs to be painted, or left silent, but in either case consciously sculpted. ‘Handmade’ is a two-minute short film with no dialogue, written and directed by Chris Winterbauer. No faces are seen, no words are spoken. Actions speak louder than words, especially when guided by music.

What else have you been working on recently?

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