The second of my online discussions with the composers of Music We’d Like To Hear focussed on the relationship between people and places, and the perception of ‘tradition’. In particular, we focussed on the musical scene around the wulf., a loft space in Los Angeles dedicated to the presentation of new and exploratory music and art. the wulf. is curated by Eric km Clark, Gary Schultz and Michael Winter, and the second of Music We’d Like To Hear’s concerts this year is dedicated to music from the wulf. Catch it tomorrow night at the Church of St Anne and St Agnes, London.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson: Are there such things as traditions in experimental music? Do groups of like-minded people in certain places at certain times shape the direction of a music? Do those that follow them feel their influence in their work? How does a centre like the wulf. facilitate/shape the development of musical relationships? Is there a shared ‘wulf style’?
Michael Winter: the wulf. is by no means a traditional establishment. That said, members of the wulf. community (both local and global) do seem to share a healthy reverence for composers they are influenced by and a genuine interest in experimentation.
Innovation and experimentation are nothing new in music. It is not a modern trend in any way. That is, the quest for new experiences is, in itself, not new at all. Or put differently, innovation and experimentation are the tradition. In a way, I often like to think that one ontology of the music making process is to learn. the wulf. is a group of people who care about each other and learn from each other. We constantly make music together and often share ideas before and after any given event.
I often tell people that the directors of the wulf. (fellow composers Eric km Clark, Gary Shultz and me) do not do much at all. We happened to find a loft that we can live and work in. It is a rather simple equation: open the doors and let artists do whatever they want. People perform and attend of their own volition. The environment is conducive to exploring ideas and certainly not a professional showcase. We often do not schedule far in advance so that when someone wants to try something out, they have an opportunity to do so. (Some of my favorite concerts here were scheduled just days prior to the event.) Further, everything is free. Nobody gets paid and nobody gets charged. Still, the wulf. is a community more than a space and I imagine will change with time. I would like to think that even if we lost our lease, the events would go on, just somewhere else such as on the streets or in parks (Mark So just presented an unbelievable event at a park in the desert called Vasquez Rocks as part of the Dog Star Orchestra Vol. 6).
Perhaps the wulf. was born out of what might be a rare confluence of composers/artists. Many of us met at CalArts and work (or worked) closely with people like Jim Tenney and Michael Pisaro (just to name a couple). However, the community of the wulf. is completely open and I am delighted to meet interesting people all the time both here and abroad. Those whom I consider our European counterparts (such as John Lely and Tim Parkinson) are just as much part of the wulf. community as anybody else. As much as I want to think that we are an influential, rare group, I am realizing more and more that times are changing in this regard. I somehow doubt there will be artists as famous as the likes of John Cage (especially those truly interested in totally new experiences). There are so many composers these days, the global population continues to increase exponentially, and both the amount of information (music) and its accessibility is also increasing exponentially. As I see it, this is a positive thing. Since we are buried in a sea of people and information, we work with total freedom (and even perhaps anonymity or obscurity). I have had the opportunity to experience so many events recently. I could probably not tell you the title of most of the pieces or even the people behind them sometimes, but the ideas in their essence and their most ‘other’ resonate immensely and are (at least for me) extremely influential.
Certainly, it is a wonderful time to make music.
Markus Trunk: I’m impressed by what Mike says about the wulf. – it sounds like a commune as much as a community. Do you actually all three live at the loft? It strikes me as typically West Coast, but that may well just be a cliché in my head.
I’m not aware of anything like it around here (or anywhere else). We see each other at concerts and socialise occasionally – there seems to be a tradition developing of inviting composers visiting London to a dinner of pies and puddings at the Newman Arms (Tim, Laurence Crane and Matthew Shlomowitz are regular attendees).
I like your attitude, Mike, toward the proliferation of composers and the increase of accessibility, and how that makes for a lack of star composers but can serve to amplify ideas. I just can’t imagine many colleagues here saying that it’s a wonderful time to make music. That’s not only British reserve for you, most of them are actively complaining about how unjustly neglected they are – not a very attractive trait.
There is a kind of freedom that comes with anonymity and obscurity (along with the lack of funds). Perhaps this is a specifically Anglo-Saxon thing, and a reason that I feel at home here. As low-key (and low resonance) our events at St Anne’s are, I would be hard pressed to say what I would change about them. It just wouldn’t be the same on the South Bank. ‘Rational Rec’ went there once and I’m not sure it worked for them. I’m looking forward to the wulf. event now, in the hope that the LA spirit can materialise in London EC2 …
Tim R-J: Michael – I’d like to know a little more about how the wulf. works. Do you, Eric and Gary consider yourselves as having any sort of curatorial role? Do you look for artists you’d like to have perform, pair certain artists together on a bill, or is it really entirely a case of artists contacting you and you just provide a space. What about promotion etc – how do people find out what’s going on and how to participate? What’s the network like?
Michael: Currently, Eric and I live in the wulf. The performance space is our living room. That is why we can keep it free and open, we have to pay rent for the space to live. We started having events the moment we moved in. Come August, Gary is taking over Eric’s room and thus becoming the third co-director of the wulf.
We try to limit our curatorial role, however, we do make the final decisions on who plays when. We also do not necessarily ask people to play, rather we simply keep our ‘doors open’. When a fellow composer friend tells me about something they are working on, I always say how great it might be for them to try it out at the wulf. when it is ready. It is not so much a request, but rather an open invitation. On the other hand, we do get several requests. Unfortunately, it is not really possible to satisfy all the requests, but they sort of pan themselves out. Most people who are here regularly supporting others are typically welcome to do events whenever they want. If someone who I do not know (and who has not been to the wulf.) sends a proposal, my first suggestion is for them to start coming to events if they are in LA. Again, it is an open invitation to join our community. We are not exclusive in any way.
Of course, while these are the general practices, there are occasional exceptions especially for our out-of-town cohorts.
Still, a few people have actually gotten upset when we cannot accommodate their proposed event, but that is rare. It usually stems from people who feel entitled to play here often using the excuse that since it is all pro-bono, why should we be making decisions at all. We reply kindly and tell them exactly how things work here. If we did everything that came through the pipeline, we would never be able to leave the wulf. Further, as in my last statement, we do have a kind of ‘mission’ of harboring a community that embraces experimentation and exploration. If something is not at all loosely connected with that very broad notion of a mission, we politely tell them so.
Again, I have to reiterate that even with our limited directorial role, the wulf. lives and breaths because of the artists here that are so, so active. We are fortunate to have an extremely prolific group of friends who help each other out. While there is not a wulf. ensemble, we are regularly performing with each other and in each other’s works. That is why we do not need to ask people to do things here. More importantly, those who are truly part of the community do not really need to ask our permission to do something here either, they just need to know when we will be home.
How do people find out about the the wulf?
1) we have a website <http://www.thewulf.org>
2) we have an email list that we post to for every event
3) word of mouth
Tim Parkinson: When I first moved to London I was surprised at how easy it is to put on a concert, and I hoped that more people would do too, which does happen. Because these events though were singular things here and there by various people, it’s not so visible as a thing which is happening. Which is partly what led to us deciding to coordinate some concert presentations and calling it ‘Music We’d Like To Hear’. The downside is that suddenly when you have a name people think you’re a big thing like a festival, so that can be mistaken, but the name becomes important as a focal point for a community, a piece of open time and space in the maelstrom. This has always been my feeling about these concerts, that I want to invite people to share in these things, to see if there’s anyone out there. Gathering the community in London has been quite difficult because of the size of the place and the amount of activity going on here anyway.
These concerts have also been pretty diverse but share the exploration theme. Though it’s difficult to say what John and Markus and I have in common, except very loosely, like a common attitude and similar musical interests I suppose. As well as my own programmes, I am genuinely excited by their programming, because it’s all new to me too, and I can’t wait to hear it all.