21st Sensory Music: In Conversation with Composer Randall Woolf

As 2010 draws to a close, it should be noted that this year has marked the centennial of the premiere of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, arguably the first contemporary composition to use “multimedia” as we (mis)understand it today. That is, as defined here, accompanying visuals that are produced by electric/electronic means.

With this as a point of entry, a discussion of the previous 10 decades of new music with visuals, and their ever evolving technology, seemed a good way to lead into a mini-profile of the work of composer Randall Woolf. His catalog contains many compositions where the elements of video and staging are prominent features in a unique combination of current technology and contemporary culture in what is 21st century classical music.

Randall Woolf

This blog post is made up of three interdependent parts: this hyper-linked text as an outline, embedded video examples, and an audio interview/conversation (24 min.) between Randy and myself, recorded and edited by Jocelyn Gonzales. Feel free to hop, skip, and jump around all three as you feel fit.

You can listen to the audio here:
All told, it simply wasn’t possible to cover everything that the topic deserved but we did touch upon a number milestones, in rather broad strokes, in this order:

01. Prometheus: Poem of Fire (1910)
02. Synesthetes & Synesthesia
03. Wagner’s stage directions
04. If C=blue, then F#=?
05. Berg’s Lulu and its filmmusik
06. Schoenberg & Satie
07. Walt Disney, Russian animation, and Marcel Duchamp
08. Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho
09. The composer as “the last rigger on the ship” in film scoring
10. ELP, Kiss, Pink Floyd
11. Late 70s/early 80s and the advent of MIDI
12. The newer generations’ use of video
13. Fancy screen savers vs. narrative content

Around 9:15 in the audio, our conversation turns to Randy’s work itself. He says it best when he says that his goal is to incorporate aspects of real life into his compositions. We discuss four of his pieces which use video in a number of ways. Excerpts of these works are found below:

REVENGE!

music: Randall Woolf, video: “The Cameraman’s Revenge,” by Ladislaw Starewicz, produced by the Khanzhonkov Company, Moscow 1912

WOMEN AT AN EXHIBITION

music: Randall Woolf, video: Mary Harron & John C. Walsh

HOLDING FAST

music: Randall Woolf, video: Mary Harron & John C. Walsh, Jennifer Choi, violin

BYOD

music: Randall Woolf, video: Margaret Busch, text: Valerie Vasilevski, dance: Heidi Latsky

* * * * * * *

As we conclude, we speak of Randy’s upcoming work, including a new commission from Newspeak based on the Detroit Riots of the 1960s, and as to what the future may hold for the continued marriage of media in modern music.

Speaking of the future, we wish you all a very Happy 2011 and look forward to all the new work to come from us and from all of you.

Patrick Grant

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