Pop goes the com­poser

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Robert B. Ker

Missy Maz­zoli is the rare com­poser who will ca­su­ally talk about “her band” in the way that Bruce Spring­steen or Lucinda Wil­liams might talk about theirs. But then, Maz­zoli doesn’t re­ally think about mu­sic in the clas­si­cal sense. She’s part of a gen­er­a­tion of com­posers who grew up lis­ten­ing to Beethoven and Aphex Twin, and she knows how to or­der el­e­ments from both menus. One of the ris­ing stars of new mu­sic — if not an ac­com­plished star al­ready — Maz­zoli puts on a con­cert at 4 p.m. Satur­day, June 19, at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum.

“I came to mu­sic through the pi­ano,” Maz­zoli told Pasatiempo. “I played pi­ano since I was 7, but it was re­ally ap­par­ent that I was not go­ing to be a fa­mous pi­anist — ba­si­cally be­cause I couldn’t han­dle the iso­la­tion of be­ing a solo per­former. I wanted mu­sic to be a com­mu­nal ac­tiv­ity. I wanted to work with other mu­si­cians. I wanted to stage op­eras. I wanted to work with multimedia. Even at a young age I sensed this was true. So I started writ­ing mu­sic very young and de­cided early on that this is what I wanted to pur­sue. Also, I’m in­ter­ested in lit­er­a­ture and vis­ual arts and phi­los­o­phy, and com­po­si­tion seems like a way to ex­plore all of those things at the same time.”

Maz­zoli’s work in­cor­po­rates a ten­sion that is al­most nar­ra­tive in na­ture, a push­ing and pulling, melodies knot­ting up and be­ing un­tan­gled. “Vol­ume,” one of five works to be per­formed in Santa Fe (see side­bar), plays out like a con­ver­sa­tion among the frag­ile kalei­do­scope of notes pro­duced by glasses of wa­ter and the pow­er­ful, mono­tone re­sponse of kick drums. “Lies You Can Be­lieve In,” a grip­ping piece for string trio, sounds as if it could score an old film like Fritz Lang’s M.

Maz­zoli’s back­ground in­cludes stud­ies at the Yale School of Mu­sic and the Royal Con­ser­va­tory of The Hague. She’s won the ASCAP Mor­ton Gould Young Com­posers Award four times, among other hon­ors, and has par­tic­i­pated in the Bang-on-a-Can Marathon of new mu­sic. She’s had mu­sic com­mis­sioned by new-mu­sic roy­alty Kronos Quar­tet and Eighth Black­bird. In 2007, she formed Vic­toire, an all-fe­male quin­tet de­voted en­tirely to flesh­ing out her com­po­si­tions (and whose mem­bers wisely ve­toed Maz­zoli’s half-kid­ding ef­forts to call them a “band­sem­ble”). She made this move in part to have the flex­i­bil­ity to play at dif­fer­ent venues and to en­joy a more so­cial mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

Sim­i­lar to Nico Muhly’s re­cent work, Vic­toire’s mu­sic finds a seat some­where be­tween in­die rock, elec­tron­ica, and cham­ber mu­sic. “I Am Com­ing for My Things” loops an an­swer­ing-ma­chine mes­sage over Philip Glass-es­que strings, sound­ing like a bad breakup or a des­per­ate, darker mis­sive from decades past. “The Diver” in­cor­po­rates oceanic key­board sounds rem­i­nis­cent of Ra­dio­head’s

Kid A al­bum. Mul­ti­ple songs use IDM (in­tel­li­gent dance mu­sic) beats and vo­cals fil­tered through elec­tron­ics.

“When I was a stu­dent at Yale, I had a job work­ing in the elec­tronic mu­sic lab,” Maz­zoli ex­plained. “I spent hours and hours and hours down there and had an end­less ap­petite for ex­per­i­ment­ing with new sounds and cre­at­ing my own sound. At the same time, I was re­ally in­ter­ested in the lo-fi end of elec­tron­ics — and in ex­per­i­ment­ing with sounds that are more nostal­gic and fa­mil­iar to lis­ten­ers — than cre­at­ing com­pletely new sounds. I want to play on sounds that peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with, whether it’s a field record­ing or an an­swer­ing-ma­chine record­ing or the sound of an out-of-tune gui­tar. These sounds are very in­ter­est­ing to me.”

Maz­zoli cur­rently so­cial­izes with young mu­si­cians who grew up in con­ser­va­to­ries and clubs. Her friends in­clude Judd Green­stein and Anna Clyne — “com­posers who are my age who I’ve known since we were all 19 or 20.” She has also re­cently col­lab­o­rated with Bryce Dess­ner of The Na­tional and Glenn Kotche of Wilco.

Vic­toire’s new al­bum, Cathe­dral City, comes out in the fall. While it is dis­tinctly new mu­sic and not quite pop, it is a record more along the lines of one Wilco might cre­ate rather than, say, a col­lec­tion of sonatas. “It’s some­thing com­posers don’t do enough,” Maz­zoli said. “They don’t think in terms of what makes a good al­bum. It’s kind of like one per­for­mance at a time.

“I feel very con­nected to pop­u­lar cul­ture. And I don’t know if that’s be­cause I’m 29 and liv­ing in Brook­lyn. I’ve al­ways had a love for pop mu­sic in ad­di­tion to clas­si­cal mu­sic. I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in us­ing tech­niques that all bands use in or­der to get peo­ple to come to my con­certs, even though I’m writ­ing mu­sic for vi­o­lins and strings and clas­si­cal com­bi­na­tions. So I’m work­ing with this la­bel right now, New Am­s­ter­dam Records, which in my mind is built more on a pop model than a clas­si­cal la­bel model, and that’s been re­ally eye-open­ing in terms of what you can do to pub­li­cize your event.”

Maz­zoli is writ­ing an opera that in­cor­po­rates film and elec­tron­ics, and she plans to stage it in 2012. She also hopes to teach more. Re­gard­less of what her fu­ture holds, we’ll cer­tainly be hear­ing more from her — we just don’t know if it will be at a cham­ber mu­sic fes­ti­val or the Coachella Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val. Most likely, it’ll be both.


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