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New York Lung Power with loadbang

30 July 2017

New Focus Recordings, Lungpowered, Contemporary

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Since their inception, the new music sensation loadbang have wowed audiences with their dynamic and explosive combination of 'lung powered' instruments - Baritone, Trumpet, Trombone, and Bass Clarinet. This peculiarly charming ensemble are strong advocates of new music and have commissioned, premiered and promoted over 250 works from the likes of "Pulitzer Prize winners David Lang and Charles Wuorinen; Rome Prize winners Andy Akiho and Paula Matthusen; and Guggenheim Fellow Alex Mincek" as well as many young emerging composers like themselves. Andy Kozar, trumpet player and founding member of loadbang, talks to Primephonic's Anthony Dunstan.

How did the ensemble come about? How did you all meet? Where did the name come from?

The three founding members of loadbang (Jeffrey Gavett, baritone; William Lang, trombone; and myself, trumpet) were colleagues at Manhattan School of Music's inaugural year of the Contemporary Performance Program. We were spending much of our time hanging out and talking about the music we were into, but soon realized it hardly made sense that we weren't actually making music together. Also at that time, Will Lang and I were running a DYI concert series at MSM called the 'Power Concerts' where we performed and curated performances of works in progress by ourselves and the other members of the program. On our April Fools Day concert in 2008, loadbang performed for the first time. Our 'repertoire' at that time was a new piece by Jeff (baritone), Earle Brown's 'December 1952' and some barbershop quartets, sung well by Jeff and passably by the rest of us (it was April Fools Day after all).  The name loadbang is taken from the computer music software Max/MSP which we were all studying at the time and continue to use.

You're a quirky ensemble that literally had to start from scratch - there was no repertoire when you began - so how have you managed to keep growing?

Since that first concert when we realized that, though strange to many, this instrumentation and combination of individuals was rich with potential, we have been working extremely hard to develop and cultivate a repertoire for the ensemble. In addition to us all writing extensively for ourselves, we're constantly commissioning composers to write for the ensemble.  Since our founding, we've premiered over 250 pieces and feel very fortunate to have new works for loadbang Pulitzer Prize winners David Lang and Charles Wuorinen; Rome Prize winners Andy Akiho and Paula Matthusen; and Guggenheim Fellow Alex Mincek.  This short list by no means is complete so for a more thorough portrait of our regularly performed repertoire and the wonderful composers we've been working with, feel free to check it out on our site.

What made you decide to release your album, lungpowered (fantastic name btw) and how did you then make it happen?

After the first few years of loadbang's existence, we felt that the body of repertoire we had developed really deserved to be recorded.  Around that time, we received a grant through MSM that afforded us the opportunity to record two records.  The first was titled 'Monodramas' on ANALOG Arts and features music by Andy Akiho, Hannah Lash, Eve Beglarian, and Paul Pinto. 'LUNGPOWERED,' on New Focus Recordings, was the second of these two albums and features works by David Brynjar Franzson, Reiko Füting, Alexandre Lunsqui, Alex Mincek, Scott Worthington, and our own trombonist William Lang. For both records, the album art was done by our former bass clarinettist and wonderful visual artist Alejandro Acierto, and the liner notes were written by two composers that we deeply admire, Reiko Füting and Ian Power.  To be honest, I can't recall the story behind the record title 'LUNGPOWERED,' though I'm glad you like it! It seemed very appropriate, since the method of sound production for the four of us begins with the lungs!

Image credit: Anthony Collins

I see you headhunted composer Lei Liang for his work Lakescape V - what do you look for when commissioning a work from a composer?

We pride ourselves on being an ensemble that is difficult to pigeonhole. We perform music we feel strongly about, regardless of the sub-genres that are so commonly tossed around in the contemporary music world. Our goal when commissioning new works is to find composers that have a strong and unique voice that we, as performers, can identify with in some way.  Regardless of style or particular aesthetic, our thought is that good music is good music!  I was introduced to Lei back at MSM probably 10 years ago and we had been trying to find a way to work together ever since.  The stars finally aligned and with the help of the Roger Shapiro Fund, Columbia University's Miller Theater and Eleanor Eisenmenger, we were able to commission Lei to write a new work for the ensemble. We'll be recording this piece in February 2018 so stay tuned for that release too!

What's the best thing about working with living composers?

I think for us, one of the most exciting aspects of working with living composers is the collaborative nature of the process. Very rarely does a composer just write a piece for us, send it over, and then we play it. More often, the process involves an open sharing of ideas. This can include actually sitting down together or any other means of communication to workshop certain techniques, orchestrations, or any number of other compositional concerns. Aside from the fact that this particular way of working helps to ensure we receive a piece that works well for us, and in turn the composer, it also gives us a heightened sense of ownership and investment in the particular work.

Being talented interpreters of new music, are there particular personalities in the ensemble that inexplicably emerge in the music?

I'm not sure that there are any ‘individual’ personalities that necessarily emerge in the music we perform, but I could be wrong! That being said, I think there is for sure an 'ensemble' or 'group' personality that I hope is very clear in all the music we play.  When the four of us come together for rehearsals or performances, we hold ourselves to an extremely high standard and deeply feel that if we're not doing it right, or at the very least, truly doing everything we can to do it right, there's not really any point to the project, or playing music at all for that matter!  We also, as individuals and as a group, are really open to try anything, at least once! If it makes great music, it's worth doing.  I hope this total dedication to quality, experimentation and the creation of something new every time we walk on stage, is something that our audiences can see and hear right away.

Image credit: Anthony Collins

What are the plans for the future?

loadbang plans to "keep on keeping on"! We have commissions and concerts already planned through the next few years and are hopeful that this amount of activity will continue and increase.  In addition to the active commissioning and performing we've been doing, there are a few other projects I'd love to tell you all about!  

Now that all of the members of loadbang are on the performance faculty at the Longy School of Music at Bard College, we've started a yearly week-long institute called 'Divergent Studio.'  Students can come as performers of contemporary chamber music and work with us for an intensive week of rehearsals, coaching, and seminars. The first one happened this past June and was a great success!

We're also continuing our yearly Commission Competition in which we invite composers to submit any work of chamber music that they feel best represents their work. The winner is then commissioned to write a new work for loadbang which gets premiered in the following season. The 2018 Commission Competition will be announced in January 2018. Your readers can find more about this project and see the past winners on our own website!

Will there be another album anytime soon?

There will! We're nearly done with our next record titled 'old fires catch old buildings' which will be released on New Focus Recordings, the label that also released 'LUNGPOWERED.' This new album will feature music by loadbang's baritone Jeffrey Gavett and trombonist William Lang in addition to Taylor Brook, Paula Matthusen, Angélica Negrón, and Scott Wollschleger. Look for it in early 2018!

loadbang in conversation with Primephonic's Anthony Dunstan
Photo credit: Anthony Collins


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