For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 78: Da Capo Conversations with Vivian Fung and Pamela Z
Looking for a way to listen to diverse creators and to support equity in the arts? Tune in weekly to For Good Measure!
Today we revisit Vivian Fung’s and Pamela Z’s perspectives on their compositional process. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Vivian Fung and Pamela Z, check them out here and here. Parts of this episode originally premiered on March 21, 2022, click here, and January 18, 2021, 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.
Co-Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Co-Producer and Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
With assistance from Hannah Chen, Sam Mason, Renata Volchinskaya
Nanette McGuinness 00:00
[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 Da Capo Conversations, a mini series where we'll be giving familiar segments a topical twist [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. Today, we revisit Vivian Fung's and Pamela Z's perspectives on their compositional process. Here's what Vivian Fung had to say:
Vivian Fung 00:39
Oh, I think process is a really good word. I really love talking about process when I talk about composition, because the end result is almost like a byproduct. When I teach, I really liked to talk about the process and how things tend to work. I think that once I get into the process of composing, it almost takes over for me, I can't really describe, you know, the technical details, but I can describe the feeling I get. If I go into that flow of working and composing, and actually deadlines are really helpful to me, knowing that there is an end game, I kind of, my adrenaline kicks in, and I kind of go into the zone of making, you know, and doing, and it almost becomes like a spiritual process to me, because there is a higher power for me that takes over, so to speak. I mean, not really, but you know, I feel like, there is something guiding me and that guidance is in the form of intuition maybe, or years of doing this, what have you, but it takes over, that sort of intuition takes over and almost guides me to choose my notes and to choose what I need to do. That being said, of course, years of craft and years of, you know, doing this has certainly helped, and I also think of architecture as a very important role into crafting the whole piece so that it has to have an inherent flow and inherent logic to it. But process for me, is really important. And that idea of, I don't know, oh, this, this, this, letting that that force takeover.
Nanette McGuinness 02:51
Here's what Pamela Z had to say:
Pamela Z 02:53
I don't prefer one or the other, but they are different. And I like that they're different. I think it makes life more interesting that I have these different approaches. I thought it would be helpful to break down for you the different ways that I compose and the different types of work that I do. I've done all kinds of things, but the things I do regularly, kind of break down into four categories. And one category would be my solo works for voice and electronics that involve, me singing with processing and gesture controllers, and maybe, occasionally a single channel of video being projected. And then I have these large-scale performance works, that are more theatrical in nature. And they often involve multiple channels of projected video, they sometimes involve other performers, they usually have a lighting design and a set design, and involve maybe some kind of movement on the stage, and maybe even props. So there are those two things. And then I also do a lot of chamber compositions these days. And those are generally works that were commissioned either by an ensemble or a soloist. And those pieces sometimes include a part for my own voice and electronics, and other times, theyâ€TMre just for the ensemble. And then there is installation, which sometimes takes the form of a fixed media stereo sound work, or a multi-channel, fixed media piece that is intended to be projected through an array of multiple loudspeakers. Or it might be an installation work that involves sound and video. Often and/or video embedded in objects. And so these are kind of four different ways that I work. The other thing I often do when I'm composing work for chamber ensembles, is that I tend to begin building phrases by listening to sampled text, finding melody in it, singing it, and then transcribing it. And however I go about deciding the pitches and rhythms that I'm going to give to the ensemble, there is a point in time where I enter things into the computer using a MIDI keyboard, and put them into MIDI tracks in Pro Tools, and I sort of construct the piece there. And then I export the MIDI out and import it into Sibelius, which is the notation program that I use. And then I sort of work on fudging the score and cleaning it up and making it be what it's supposed to be. And then I have to work on how I express all the things that are not notes and not standard notation type of ideas. How do I express those in the score and make it so that it's legible and understandable for whoever is going to be performing it. So that's kind of one way that I work. If I'm making pieces that are just for my solo voice and electronics, the way that I tend to start with those is by setting up all my gear as if I was going to give a performance in my studio, everything that I need, all of my controllers and everything, and then I just start playing, and I improvise a lot. And I come up with ideas by doing. And often, those things almost come to me whole cloth like, I'll just be playing around and then all of a sudden, Iâ€TMll realize that the last five minutes I just did, that's a piece. And then â€“ hopefully I was recordingâ€“ and I have to go back and learn it. [laughs]
Nanette McGuinness 07:18
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure's Da Capo Conversations, and a special thank you to our guests 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 where 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 McGuinness and Ensemble for These Times and designed by Brennan Stokes, with special thanks to co-producer and audio engineer Stephanie M. Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts in tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]