Sunday, July 03, 2011

Q&A with Composer Darren Nelsen

1) Name five influences.

Charles Ives, Frank Zappa, Howard Skempton, Philip Glass, Andy Summers (along with numerous other electric guitarists, way too many to mention)

2) What are you currently working on? What can we expect to hear from you?

I'm working on an album of solo guitar loops and improvisations. It's in the mixing stage right now and I hope to publish it in the next month or two. I'm really excited about the work and looking forward to releasing it. Also, I just completed a set of glockenspiel miniatures for percussionist Stuart Gerber. Hopefully we'll have a chance to premiere it this fall. Beyond that, I'm working on a couple of other chamber pieces and planning my next guitar album.

Also, I have an instrumental rock group called Gravity Machine that I want to use as a vehicle for performing and promoting the work of local composers. We're working on a piece of Adam Scott Neal's now and I've invited several other friends to write for the group.

3) What's good about the Atlanta music scene? Or, why do you live and/or work here?

Atlanta has an abundance of composers. Among them, I have several friends and I always like to hear what they're doing. These include Adam Scott Neal, Nicole Chamberlain, Mark Gresham, Tim Jansa, Curtis Bryant, and more. Plus, I'm always impressed with Nickitas Demos and Jason Freeman's work. There are so many doing good work here, it's hard to mention names without leaving someone out.

The chamber ensembles in the area are outstanding. The most visible, adventurous ones are Bent Frequency, Sonic Generator, and neoPhonia who have concerts throughout the school year. If you haven't seen their performances, you must. They're the highest representation of new music in the area. Also, there are smaller, less known ensembles that premiere new works including Morningside Chamber Players, Chamberlain Duo, and the Cerberus Percussion Group.

At the orchestra level, there's the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Robert Spano, who have premiered a lot of new music and produced amazing concerts. They're spectacular. World-class. I love what Spano has done with the ASO and I have a lot of respect and admiration for him despite his promotion of the specious 'Atlanta School of Composers' (which doesn't represent Atlanta composers much at all).

More recently in my awareness is the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, which has championed new music by local composers as well. I'm looking forward to learning more of their work.

Lastly, there are great new music festivals: SONICpalooza, Kennesaw State New Music Festival, and others.

There's a lot going on here. I'm happy to be here and part of the scene.

4) What is the biggest challenge you face as an Atlanta composer and how do you address it?

The biggest challenges are networking the community and connecting with audiences. Atlanta is spread out. Sprawl has us scattered. Until a few years ago, lots of composers here didn't know each other. In 2006, I put together the Atlanta Composers Blog to network composers and get us talking to each other. Thankfully, that's been successful and now we're connected and I think we could say we're a community (loose knit though it is). Now that we've built that community, we need to do a better job of reaching out to listeners and building our audience. We can do that through more performances and recordings. And marketing, I'm afraid to say... which composers are notoriously bad at doing. But we need to work on that because no one will do it for us.

5) Who in the local scene would you like to collaborate with and why?

There are lots of folks I would love to work with. I'd like to premiere my set for glockenspiel with Stuart Gerber, as previously mentioned. I would like to work with each of the chamber ensembles I mentioned (Bent Frequency, Sonic Generator, neoPhonia.) Someday, though it's a long way off and I need to grow a lot more as a composer, I'd like to work with the ASO. I also welcome the opportunity to work with Atlanta artists in other disciplines--dance, film, visual arts---because it would be fun and would make me a better composer by expanding my depth and scope.

6) What instrument(s) haven't you written for that you would like to write for?

Plenty. Among them, saxophone and trumpet, so I'm working on a piece for glock, sax, and trumpet. Beyond that, there are more instruments I haven't written for than I have, so my work is cut out for me.

7) How does technology play a role in your work?

It helps me get things done. And helps me reach people.

I use Macs for most of my work, and I use a lot of music software--LilyPond (engraving), Logic (recording and mixing), Csound (synthesis), etc.

I collaborate with others online using cloud technology (Dropbox, Gobbler, iDisk).

I publish my work through my website and others including ReverbNation, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. I also use a distributor to get my work to online retailers like iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.

I market through social media, Twitter, Facebook and the like. I journal new music concerts by tweeting them as they happen.

I store sheet music (PDFs) on my iPad. I keep all my scores with me everywhere I go.

My main instrument is electric guitar, which has seen huge advances in the last 10 years in effects processors, simulators, and modeling. That's been a lot of fun. It's expanded my tonal range immensely, and makes it incredibly easy to record any guitar sound I want (or could imagine) straight to disk.

Practically everything I do is impacted by technology. Without it, being a composer would be a lot less fun for me.

8) When and where is your next performance?

I may have a CD release party for my guitar album for which I might do a small performance. I hope to perform with my instrumental rock band Gravity Machine this fall and premiere works by my fellow composers who have or are writing for the group. Join my mailing list and I'll let you know when and where I'll be performing next.

9) Where can we find you online?

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