For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 3: Pamela Z (part 3)
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In this week’s episode, we talk to Pamela Z about how attention spans have changed and how she selects her projects. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Pamela Z, visit http://www.pamelaz.com/ . Parts of this episode originally premiered on January 2021, found on Youtube, click here.
This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!
Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021
Transcription courtesy of Otter.ai.
Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Intern: Roziht Edwards
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to "For Good Measure," an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists, sponsored by a grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, Artistic Executive Director of Ensemble for These Times. In this week's episode, we continue our conversation with Pamela Z, who we spoke to in January 2021.[INTRO MUSIC ENDS] "Attention 2016" was inspired by the ways in which our focus and attention are constantly challenged in this era of endless notifications and nonstop communication feats. Fast forward now to 2020, have your thoughts on those concerns evolved, or have they simply grown more urgent?Pamela Z:
The only thing I really have to say about that is that I think the biggest change has been, since the time that I wrote that piece, that we were all just in the habit of being tethered to these devices. And you know, you can be working really hard, trying to finish composing a piece, and then all of a sudden, you hear a phone vibrating, or a ringtone, or a beep, or a text message from messenger, you know, Facebook –"What is that?! I don't know which, I don't know where even to look for those ones." So, it could be Messenger, it could be Messages, you know, like your text message it goes "ding," – it's like a little high pitched bell and for program, and it could be on the phone, or it could be on your computer, could be What's App. It might just be the alert saying that you've just got an email. There's all these different alerts and we've all got in our ears all the time, and every time we hear them, we start patting ourselves down for our devices to see "who's calling me?" What should I, you know, it doesn't matter what you're in the middle of doing, people just feel like they can't not look. And so that's what I a long time, I was just like,"Which one is that?! was kind of talking about with these interruptions. And but I would say that the big difference between then and now is that it seemed like at that point, we were making a conscious choice to allow ourselves to be controlled by[laughs]..." these things, and to allow ourselves to be dealing withNanette McGuinness:
[laughs] screen time, constantly. Whereas now we're in a world where it's our only connection to the outside world because we're locked down. And so we have to be constantly looking at screens and talking to people via screens, because there's no other way to greet, we're not allowed to be in the same room and be face to face anymore. So it feels like we get we should get a pass. [laughs] And then the other thing I was thinking about was the fact that I have a very dear friend who detests smartphones. And it took him forever to get one he finally felt that he had to get one because he couldn't even do his work without having it. But what he really hated was seeing the entire world suddenly glued to these things, and that he would get on a BART train or a bus or any public conveyance. And every single person was staring at a little tablet or a little device of some kind. And he didn't like that. And so I, in the in defense of these devices, I used to argue to him, well, you know, it's not like they're all doing the same thing. Some of thosePamela Z:
It seems like there's a problem here. So, but now I people are writing a letter, some of those people are reading the New York Times, some of those people are, you know, realize, you know, it's, we're now in a situation where we have sending a love note to their beloved, some of them are drawing, some of them are listening to music. Some of them are reading their correspondence. So it's not like to be staring at the screens all day long, no matter what we're they were all doing the same thing. It's just that the device they're using to do it looks exactly the same to somebody who's looking from the outside. So I was saying, you know, if doing, there isn't an activity anymore, that doesn't involve this had been a different era they'd all be doing something but it would be they'd be holding a New Yorker magazine and reading it or a book and reading it or they'd be having a the screen. There used to be[laughs]. And I used to jokingly little notepad and writing notes. And so they're doing the same thing, they're just using a different device to do it. But he said “I still don't like it”... [laughs] say that I have to do so many things using my computer, fromNanette McGuinness:
[laughs] writing correspondence, to composing music, to, you know, doing my finances. Everything I do has to get done on the computer and I used to jokingly say that if, if it were possible, I would probably cook on the computer...Pamela Z:
...or have, you know, have meals on the computer. AndNanette McGuinness:
[laughs] then fast forward to 2020, and we're all actually having Zoom lunches, and Zoom dinners. And we actually, my family actually had Thanksgiving on Zoom. So there were like, eight of us, like all my siblings, and my nieces, and you know, eight or 10 of us were on there. We were all cooking, having eggnog, sitting down together and eating, you know, on Zoom, even if you are just resigned to the fact that you're, you're doing the work on the computer, there are still different levels of how distracted you may or may not be. So for example, I might be trying to compose music, and I'm using the computer to do that. But then I have these little – in the upper right corner of the screen –these little notifications, all these little text notifications telling me I've gotten an email. And it's really hard to like, just continue what you're doing, and not look up there and say, oh, so and so responded to my email, I wonder what she said, you know, and suddenly, now you've switched to another application, you're reading your email now. Or oh, you know, somebody liked my post on Facebook, about my concert that I have coming up. I wonder if people will go, maybe I'll check and see if they said they're[laughs] going to go, you know [laughs].Pamela Z:
So sometimes you have to figure out how to turn all of that off so that you can be on this device, but be focused on the task that you're actually trying to do. You kind of have to put blinders on as it were.Nanette McGuinness:
So that you can still stay in the flow of the creative work that you're doing, instead of constantly being pulled out by the pings.Pamela Z:
Yes, exactly. And then when you try to come back, you can't just start where you left off, you have to like kind of,"Uh... where was I? How was I thinking here?" You know?Nanette McGuinness:
So, if you look away for five minutes, it really wastes more like 15 or 20 minutes to get you back into it, whatever it was that you're doing. So. [laughs]Nanette McGuinness:
You've been working successfully for decades, and more recently, it seems as if you've had an amazing few years, congratulations! Still, it must be a little like grabbing a tiger by the tail. How do you pick which projects you want to take on? Have your goals or desires changed in response to all this?Pamela Z:
It's actually kind of stressful for me right now, because I have a little problem with that two letter word that we're all supposed to learn. And I just don't tend to say no to things and I thought I had gotten better at it, but I am still like agreeing to things that I don't know why I'm agreeing to them because I'm really overcommitted. And, and the other thing that's frustrating is that it seems like this COVID time, people are, other people are acting like oh, they're, they're drumming their fingers right now, they're twiddling their thumbs because, oh, you know, they need things. And I even have people like sending me things like, here's something fun to do. If you need something to do. I'm like...Nanette McGuinness:
I don't need something to do. [laughs] I don't really understand why people think I need somebody to do because I'm so overwhelmed and so over-committed that I can't. And I think maybe the reason why it's gotten worse is partially, because since we can't go out, people tended to plan way much further in advance in the old days. If somebody wanted you to come and play a gig, or even if they want you to come and do an interview or do a class visit at a university, or give a colloquium talk, all of those things, you would get invited to do it for the following semester. They wouldn't say,"Are you busy next week?" you know [laughs]Nanette McGuinness:
You know because they planned their things out more, and performing arts series are booked like a year in advance, at least! You know, I would get gigs, often, where they were saying, “we're thinking about 21-22 now”. And now, I get people calling me all the time, saying – not calling, emailing, usually, sometimes Facebook Messengering – saying, “well we have this series,” they start with a very long intro, “we're doing this new series, and we're trying to feature women composers, or we're trying to, or we're talking about people who work in this and that way, and we thought you'd be perfect for that. And we're trying to do a series of them. And so the first one on the series is, is next month on, you know, Tuesday, the first Tuesday”. And so, you know, and I'm just like, I'm booked, I'm really booked, I have a lot of things, I have a lot of commissions that I'm behind on turning in and so it's been kind of crazy, because then, you know, I find myself feeling compelled to squeeze them. And I feel like I need to start saying “no”, you know, if you want to do this in the following season, then maybe we can talk, but right now I'm overbooked.Nanette McGuinness:
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to "For Good Measure," and a special thank you to our guest, Pamela Z for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media, and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT, our concert season online and in the Bay Area, or to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at www.E4TT.org. This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. "For Good Measure" is produced by Nanette McGinnis and Ensemble for These Times, and designed by Brennan Stokes. With special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]