I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1980. My earliest artistic impressions were images of Ronald Reagan and the sounds of 80’s television programs. My teenage love affair with Paula Abdul and Led Zeppelin abruptly ended when I discovered Beethoven, Nietzsche, and the piano. – Scott Wollschleger
Last September, LONGLEASH premiered Scott Wollschleger‘s White Touches here in Brooklyn. We recently commissioned Scott to write a major work for us, so we took this opportunity to ask him a few questions.
JP You include a Cioran quote to accompany this work: “Melancholy is the dream state of egoism”. For us, this evokes the obsessive, alienated atmosphere created by your use of repetition as a formal and expressive tool. Can you describe your use of repetition as a means of creating an emotional state?
SW Yes, I think there’s a life or death thing with repetition. There’s a real struggle taking place. Maybe first think about how repetition and variation can apply to our sense of self and how we identify ourselves. Every morning when we get up and look in the mirror are we the same person we were the day before? I think most of us would say yes and no. We recognize ourselves but we definitely change. 7-year old Scott would not know 33-year old Scott and vise versa. We’re very different people. When did the change happen or was I always changing? This is an interesting paradox we encounter everyday.
I find being the same person over and over again to be a real drag, it’s depressing. Repetition of “the same” is inherently sad. This is why I find most minimalist music very sad. It feels as if one is stuck doing the same thing over and over again with no hope of ever changing. Yet, despite this, the sad affect that is produced is also addicting. People get a kind of pleasure from melancholy. I like to recall the Nirvana line, “I miss the comfort in being sad.” Repetition of “the same” is comforting perhaps in the same way habits can be. The sad kind of repetition is fundamentally based on identification. I think identification is like a kind of prison we put on the world around us. Saying you are this and that is that. How terrible that can be. I feel a resistance to identification. I don’t want to be part of the Pepsi Generation, etc.
With music I want to say there are two kinds of repetition. The first, I just mentioned, is based on identification. And the other I like to call differential repetition. This kind of repetition is dynamic and relates to variation. In differential repetition the identity of the thing is not so clear. There is no “original” thing that is repeated. The first instance is already a variation. With differential repetition it’s about non-identity taking place. I think there is a will to life in this kind of repetition. Schoenberg, btw, totally got this. In a way it’s like being radically free from the very start. Or to poorly paraphrase Nietzche, “we are always innocent”. “Being is innocent.” A good friend once said to me, “That which returns (or repeats) wills to become different.”. This will speaks in music.
JP This work is an example of your interest in the significance of “white noise” as a musical element. For a composer who enjoys the power of pitch and harmony, does this non-pitched sound reflect a new direction for you?
SW Yes, for sure. First, we should clarify that the “white noise” we’re working with is created acoustically and not via some electronic means. In one way I see white noise at the extreme end of the pitch and harmony spectrum. So in this way it’s just another sound to explore, but there is a more philosophical significance to the sound. Again it’s a life or death thing. I think it signifies the erasure of music. It’s as if music has died and what we hear is the ghost of music. But in this death there’s also an affirmation of something new coming into being. There’s a real vitality to the sound. It seems to animate something on the edge of silence. Again, the image of animating silence comes to mind. There’s also a very practical perceptual component to using white noise. The sound adjusts our hearing. Maybe it has to do with the quiet threshold it operates at, but I think it makes us more sensitive and we can listen in a deeper way.
JP I recently performed your solo work, America, for a group of Austrian visual artists. After crowding around the score, one woman remarked how visually beautiful the manuscript was, and I was reminded of that Feldman quote about his music being “between music and painting”. Does a consideration for score optics shape your compositional process?
SW I’m glad to hear others find the manuscript beautiful. The visceral beauty is important to me. Something must be communicated via the look of the score. The score of America had its genesis in a dream. In my dream I saw an image of a 7-over-3 sort of patterned wallpaper music. It was very vague in terms of details like which notes were there, but I was able to slowly realize the music over the course of about two years. When we arrived at what would be the final version of the music I decided to engrave the piece in ink because I find working with ink very meditative. Also when you fuck up you have to live with it and even love the mistakes. It’s a good exercise in acceptance.
JP Can you tell us a bit about what you are currently working on?
SW I just finished two important chamber works: my second string quartet, White Wall and a piece for baritone, trumpet, clarinet and trombone called What is the Word. Both works deal with some kind of dramatic disintegration taking place. I have some great recording projects that I’m wrapping up now too. We just recorded Brontal no.’s 3 and 6 and I have a piano work being commercially released this spring on the Irish label, Hersey Records. Next up is a large work for string orchestra and piano and the work for LONGLEASH.
Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980, Erie, PA) received his Masters of Music in composition from Manhattan School of Music in 2005, where he studied with Nils Vigeland. An avid supporter of collaboration and experimental creativity, Mr. Wollschleger was the Artistic Director of Red Light New Music, a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and crafting contemporary music. He currently is the Senior Production Manager at Schott Music New York and is the Associate Director of New Publications for Project Schott New York. Mr. Wollschleger’s music has been widely performed in the United States and around the world, with recent performances throughout Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, in addition to performances in San Diego, Los Angeles, Charlotte, and the greater New York City and Brooklyn areas. With a strong emphasis on solo and chamber works, his musical ideas often explore an acute sense of synesthesia and color in sound, in addition to the a-temporal and discontinuous nature of experience. He has received support from a variety of organizations including New Music USA and the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music. Current and upcoming commissions include writing new works for Mivos, loadbang, LONGLEASH, The String Orchestra of Brooklyn and Red Light New Music. Mr. Wollschleger’s work is published by Project Schott New York.