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Interview with Anne La Berge

Three Nice Questions, for flute; Dada da Babylon

Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, Show #55/56, 8 and 15 June 1996. Kalvos & Damian on the road in Amsterdam at Anne La Berge’s flat. Listen to the interview (RealAudio) from the original broadcast: Audio Part 1 [0:40:24–1:35:20] / Audio Part 2 [0:43:00–1:31:50].

Anne La Berge’s career as flutist/improvisor/composer stretches across international and stylistic boundaries. Her most recent performances bring together the elements on which her international reputation is based: a ferocious and far-reaching virtuosity, a penchant for improvising delicately spun microtonal textures and melodies, her wholly unique array of powerfully percussive flute effects, all combined with cutting edge electronics. The last few years have seen a new addition to her work: self-penned enigmatic short stories which slide seemlessly in and out of her compositions and improvisations. She is known for her innovative collaborations ranging from her highly virtuosic chamber music to her electro-improvisations. Recent collaborators and co-performers include Cor Fuhler (Corkestra), David Dramm, Guy de Bievre, Mieko Kanno, Peter van Bergen (LOOS), Robert van Heumen.

Part 1

Audio Part 1 [0:40:24–1:35:20]

[Kalvos] Our guest today is Anne La Berge, who is quietly looking at us, wondering what it is we’re doing. We’re here, we’re live, we’re on the air. Welcome.

[Anne La Berge] Thank you.

[K] You’re going to tell us a lot about your dual career, your dual existence as composer and performer, why you’re here in Holland, and what you’ve been doing, and what’s new? So… who the heck are ya, Anne?

[ALB] Well, I grew up in America, in the United States, and about six years ago came over to Holland. It’s been going quite well, in the last six years.

[K] So… composer for how long? When did you put the capital ‘C’ next your name?

[ALB] Oh yeah, well, I’ve been sort of shy about that, because performers don’t usually compose in quite the same way. The composer/performer breed is in general a slightly different breed than the composers who are not quite so actively involved with their instrument, or interpreting other peoples’ music. So sometimes I put the big ‘C’ on, and sometimes I take it off. I’ve been quite involved in improvisation since I was eight.

[K] Since you were eight, wow. Does that mean you kind of pounded on the piano? [Laughter]

[ALB] Well, I started on my instrument relatively early, and thought that if I could play it, then I could probably make it up, too.

[Damian] Did you pass through a Telemann flute concerto stage, where you were actively playing these pieces?

[ALB] Yeah, I’m a classically-trained musician, with an almost Ph.D. Yeah, I’m qualified to play all the major works. I’ve performed quite a few of them.

[K] Let’s start with a fairly recent piece of yours. A piece called never again. Preface it, then we’ll have a listen, and I’d like to ask you some things about it.

[ALB] The sound material in never again grew through a lot of experience with improvisation. As you’ll hear in some of the other music that will be played, I’ve been working on the flute as a percussive instrument, by instinct, for quite a while. But this piece finally enabled me, or the working process through this piece enabled me, to bring it out completely as a percussion instrument. I have to say that in my role in an improvisation ensemble that I have with electric guitar player David Dramm, my function was not to be the melodic instrument in every work. My function was probably 60–70% of the time to provide the drum.

[K] Let’s listen to the music, and let’s get back and talk about what that role is.

We listen to never again (for amplified flute) by Anne La Berge [0:44:35–0:54:20].

[K] “Percussive” is really the word. How did you get the inspiration, the idea to use the flute, dominantly in a piece like this, as percussive?

[ALB] Yeah. I just do it. That’s what comes to me, that’s what I would like to do with the instrument. So, in a way you could ask where the inspiration came from, but I would say that in some ways, I was at a young age placed on a wrong instrument, by very well-meaning parents. Or, in the experience of playing every possibility of sweet melody, I seem to think that there must be something else that the instrument could do. But also, quite early delving into modern music as an extended technique flute player, the sound world was touched on by many composers, starting with Varèse, with his little key clicks there. I took these very seriously, these percussive techniques, and because rhythmic drive is essential to my idea of the music that I want to create, I decide that instead of trying to keep doing it with conventional flute sound, I just simply use the flute as a percussive noise instrument. But the practicing, to bring this piece about, all of the practicing came about essentially by improvising with other people, and being responsible for the rhythm track.

[K] Why didn’t you simply give up the instrument, and go to something more percussive?

[ALB] I made a lot of progress in the early years. So, it didn’t seem somehow realistic to just drop the instrument, it seemed more realistic to take the instrument in a place it’d never been before.

[K] Was this a conscious effort at pioneering, or was this something that you just began doing because it interested you? Were you trying to create a new path?

[ALB] That’s a nice question. I mean, the simplest answer would be that my father’s a research scientist. So, before I was born, research was a primary event in our house. But that’s sort of an easy answer. I think that the idea of being involved in creating music is simply that I wanted to. It came naturally. I saw that in interpreting music, the amount of creation that a player could honestly have was almost as much as the composer put into the piece. It made sense to me then, that I was responsible to do at certain times without the other composer, just provide more material for the flute. And of course, that’s the altruistic answer… so I could give you the developmental and the altruistic answer …

[K] Please, let’s have them both! From somewhere in between, we will sift the truth!

[ALB] I don’t think there is an answer why someone is involved in creation. It seems to be such a natural drive, that it surprises me that everyone isn’t a composer or a painter, or a writer or a dancer, or something like that.

[K] Well, I think we might all feel that way sitting around this table in your flat, but there are these incredible, sort of traditionalist performers who (maybe I’m wrong, but) don’t often touch the notion of composition.

[ALB] Well, no, if you look at [James] Galway, he actually invents every piece he plays. He’s a stylistic vanguard, maverick, and the same with [Jean-Pierre] Rampal, with Marcel Moyse, and the same with the people who venture into interpreting music in a way that’s so personal, they almost don’t need the written page, because they’ve personalized the music so much. Other people who are so seriously intent on style, stylistic interpretation, you could also look at them as almost-composers, because they go back to original instruments and play their Telemann on what they would believe to be the original instruments, with all the original embellishments, and there’s a great deal of self-motivation for almost composing the piece. It just so happened I wanted to make up a little bit more myself.

But, of course, if you look at how my career… walked, how it journeyed, in the earlier days I spent more of my time (and sometimes I’ll spend also more time, even now), in interpreting other people’s music. But there are certain pieces that I’ve been handed, which require more of me than the composer ever required of himself or herself. So those habits, as a new music performer, are actually built quite deep.

[K] Can you expand on the notion that it requires more of you as a performer, than the composer depends on himself?

[ALB] Well, one very pragmatic thing is that it could require… [to learn] a hard piece I play, by an American composer named Paul Koonce, took three hours a day, for three months. And that was the time I wanted to invest. Now, I would say Paul probably invested that much time, or maybe more, but then, for me to work it up, it’s three a hours a day for another two weeks, and then traveling around and playing it is, what? Three thousand calories per performance…  And if you look at the quotient of what I invest in my life into that piece… Paul’s done, except for listening to the tape, and enjoying the performances. But I’m still burning calories.

[K] Now, what does it mean to work for three hours a day for three months on a piece? What do you do?

[ALB] Well, it’s very nice, you spend a lot of playing around with your personal habits, to see if you can get them trained in a way that you trust, and like. You spend time experimenting, quite a bit of time experimenting, and a lot of time thinking about what the composer might want, and then what you’re going to do that he might not want, that you’re going to do anyway [K laughter] and basically having large amounts of time of fantasy, that’s structured, that’s guided in a direction, where at some point there might be a product, which would be performed.

[K] You talk about improvisation. What’s that for you? Because improvisation is… well, we have all sorts of associations with improvisation. They’re different for different people. What is improvisation mean for you?

[ALB] Yeah, it’s definitely a nice question. Right now, I’m working with a dancer, and we’ve been asked to do a project next year, where we have a month residency in a performing venue, and we make a piece. The dancer’s also quite experienced with improvisation. The exercises we’ve been doing, his field (or the people he’s been working with) call “instant composition.” And I have to say that the way I’ve always improvised has been as if I’m making the piece. And I think that differs in that some people use it as a way just to be with their instrument, or to experiment, or to hang out with other people who happen to like to make noise at the same time. But for me, it’s always been, even when I’m just playing around, it’s been to make a piece.

[K] We attended a concert last week [you played in] and the improvisation that was taking place was so internal, it seemed. And what I mean by that is that I felt, as an audience member, that I was looking through a window. I felt like I wanted to wave, and say, “Hello, I’m here.” Was that me, or do you — during that improvisation, either as an ensemble or you personally — envelop yourself so much in the process of composing on your feet, and listening to each other, that the audience is inevitably outside?

[ALB] Well, I can’t give the audience a task, because I think that the individuals in the audience all have a response that are unique enough, for me not to be able to predict what that will be. I can’t claim responsibility for the concert, because there were six people, and the compositions, except for one very small composition, were not mine. So, your response was to a group that I feel largely not responsible for.

[K] [Laughter] Okay, but you are improvising inside the group. For you as an improviser, then, maybe address it directly that way. For you, as an improviser inside the group, do you feel any relationship to an audience outside? Or is your relationship to the music that’s being composed as you’re working through there, and to the other musicians?

[ALB] I can’t say that I’ve ever been onstage and haven’t felt a relationship with my audience. And… yeah, depending on what the dynamic of the music and the audience is, the conditions in the hall, and the time of day… who was building the structures, who was responsible for the music, but that’s not always under my control.

[K] Let’s listen to some more, not improvised. This is revamper.

[ALB] Well, let me say one thing about Revamper… it was a commission from the National Food Association of America as the required piece for high school students to play in their yearly competition. And the material for Revamper is basically a scaled-down version of improvised music that was part of a dance project that I did with David Dramm in the mid-80s. What was so nice about it, is that it’s excerpt warmups for me in some ways, with a slightly more strict structure put on it.

We listen to Revamper by Anne La Berge [1:08:16–1:12:48].

[K] What do you do in that piece? I think most people listening probably haven’t heard a flute that not only has a percussive element, which we heard earlier in never again, but something else going on in there. What is that?

[ALB] I was singing when I play, as I play. And that’s an old trick of rock flute players.

[K] But it doesn’t sound like rock flute players here.

[ALB] Well no, because I’m blowing pretty hard. And I’m not playing the tune, I’m playing essentially what would be the accompaniment, again. And in the end, the buildup (which would be in the last 35 seconds or so), I’m playing what you’d call the overtone series of the original note that I played. So, I’m not changing my hand fingerings at all, I’m simply blowing harder and softer. Blowing more hard and more softly, to get all the different acoustic personalities of that fingering.

[K] It is a very rich sound, it’s full of colours up and down.

[ALB] Yeah, that’s a nice thing about the flute.

[K] This is not easy.

[ALB] Well, you know, that’s the thing. When I composed this for those high school flute players, I thought, “They’ll love this, this is rock ‘n roll.” And then what happened was that all these really sweet, young [kids that had] been trained to play Telemann and Mozart to perfection. I’d forgotten that they don’t love to blow and they don’t like to play with excessive rhythmic drive, and one young player from Chicago really nailed the piece, and he was the only one who could. He luckily won the competition. I wouldn’t say it was from my piece, but while I was putting the piece together, I’d forgotten what the tradition of flute playing, even so young, was.

[K] The tradition of flute playing is just, I think, always associated with that sweetness and lightness, and the idea of using it not only for percussion, but for these huge towers of harmonic sound, is something I would think would be reserved for much later when people enrich their technique. Other than that reaction, maybe you could give some more of the student reactions to this piece.

[ALB] Well, I mostly heard their teacher’s reactions, which were slightly resentful. [K laughter] And the judges in the competition were fascinated with the piece, because it approached the flute much differently than in years past, for this piece. It was interesting, because I had never performed the piece when it was played in competition, so it scared me a little to see it have so many interpretations that weren’t right on.

[K] Do you mean that you had never publicly performed the piece?

[ALB] No, I mean, it came out of sections of music that I’d improvised, but I’d never actually been onstage with this piece myself. And then I started using it as an opener for solo recital, and as a sort of middle piece, with chamber music recitals with other people, and it worked great. It reminded me, one of the judges who I was sitting by, listening to the performers, he leaned over and said, “Well, you know, they just need to learn how to blow, and they need to learn how to make it rock,” and I thought, well, isn’t that what high school kids want to do?

[D] Getting back to the first piece that we played, is that notated so that another flutist could play it, or is there so much improvisation that each performance would be different?

[ALB] I have a couple stories. One is that when I was mixing the CD, a composer was helping me do the mix. And as you heard, there were some very complex interactions. It sounded quite complex, and he said, “Did you notate this?” and I said, “Oh yeah, you know, I had a whole number scheme worked out, and I made sure that there were no repeating rhythms, and worked out every measure. I could show you the matrix of how I developed all the rhythm schemes.” But I was referring to only one track, and he thought I was referring to the piece, and he thought it was amazing how complex I’d figured out all of these numerical relations, and I impressed him very much, until I told him that I was improvising one track and the other one was composed.

When I first started playing the piece, I used quite a bit of text in the work, and I actually screamed things. I have a very specific text, where at the end I’m screaming, “She said, he said, no, no, no, no.” And I wrote it when my daughter was two, and I was just thinking a lot about “he said, she said, no, no, no,” because two-year-olds, that’s all they say is “no, no, no.” So for me it was quite light, but the women in the audience, quite predictably it brought tears to their eyes, because they thought it was about rape or insult, or about disharmony among the sex. And see what you’re talking about as the audience member, I felt like I was contacting the audience member very specifically with two-year-old behaviour, and the audience was responding to the crisis of rape in our race.

I also used the piece in a concert for racial harmony, and used the text of some different authors. Again, people had very deep responses to the work. The piece has been performed by another flutist, numerous times, who happens to be a student of mine, so I’ve had quite an influence on how it’s executed. Although he uses quite a few different sounds in the improvisation, different from what I would ever use. He and I are speaking about actually performing it live, as two flutists, which is very possible, and with some concentrated rehearsal time, it would be an easy success, as far as making it work.

[K] Rethinking the improvisatory line as a composed line, or simply continuing to use it as an improvisatory line?

[ALB] Always using it as an improvisatory line.

[K] Let’s hear some more. Let’s hear suboption. Give us a précis of suboption before we part.

[ALB] suboption is the premiere of a new flute that’s been developed by a flute designer and builder in Holland named Eva Kingma, and a flute maker in the United States named Bickford Brannen. This flute can acoustically, I would say, correct or honestly, or with full, easy sound, play quarter tones. For the listening audience who isn’t familiar with what quarter tones are, those are the other notes in between the notes on the piano. They don’t exist on the piano.

[K] Was it designed with extra keys, or was it designed in such a way that you could lift your finger off a key…

[ALB] Well, there’s six extra keys on top of keys. So if you want to open a hole only a halfway, you can do it with a key on top of a key, which an English flute maker so nicely phrased as “piggyback keys.” So this piece was a premiere of this flute, and it’s a relatively short piece, because I was asked to keep it short. It uses this flute in only a couple of very banal ways.

[K] Well, alright. [Laughter] Let’s see what the listeners think, whether those are banal ways.

We listen to suboption by Anne La Berge [1:22:30–1:27:15].

[K] Effects inside my head, with this piece. What’s going on? I’m referring to the section where I lose track of the fact that the flutes are playing notes close to each other, and instead I hear some sort of buzzing.

[ALB] In music terminology, you call that beating. Which essentially is, I guess, you’re ears are getting slightly beaten. The phenomenon is that the notes are tuned in such a way that they create a psychoacoustic sensation of being the same note, but out of tune. So they create almost a wall, or what we would hear as a wall of sound, with vibrations going between them.

[K] The best analogy I can come up with for myself, in hearing that section, was that the sound, which has these intense notes nearby each other, is kind of like the intense heat of a hot oil used in cooking. That suddenly the hot oil disappears as the focus of what you’re hearing, and instead a new set of flavours comes in underneath because of the way you’ve reacted to that. It’s an analogy that I felt immediately upon hearing that section.

[ALB] That’s a very flavourful reaction. Well, what exactly did you want to get?

[K] Well, it seemed like I lost a sense of focus on the notes that were being played.

[ALB] Yeah, well that’s because they’re so close together.

[K] And instead the beating that was happening inside my head became the dominant flavour.

[ALB] Yeah, but I mean, even if you listen to certain ensemble music, orchestra music or any ensemble, with a certain kind of listening, the whole becomes more than the parts. The way that these flutes are interacting, these four or five flutes, that buildup of psychoacoustic effect, that the whole simply swallows the parts.

[K] Yeah, it really does, it really, really does in that piece.

[ALB] I’m using clusters, and these are what you’d call microtonal clusters, because they’re not tuned traditionally. With other music now, I did a piece with an improvisation ensemble of 16 members, where they de-tuned their clusters for about 10 to 12 minutes, and it was very beautiful. Because you lose the identity of the individual instruments or players to this wall of vibrating sound.

I’m right now in the process of writing a piece for oboe, where she plays clusters. She’d never done it before, and the first time she did it, you could tell she wasn’t hearing how she could build with herself another instrument by recording over and over with herself. Then, after a couple minutes, and after five or six minutes, you could tell she could really hear what was going on, and how to make the most of the interesting qualities of a wall of instruments.

[K] It’s really very different… you sort of fall inside. You call it a wall, I don’t know, my reaction wasn’t that at all. It was something I fell inside and became part of, rather than a wall. A wall almost feels like something’s blocking, and in this case it didn’t feel like that at all.

Let’s listen to something which you described off-mic as “ten minutes of things,” rollin’. This is an earlier piece. What are ten minutes of things?

[ALB] This is actually the last piece… because I don’t compose many pieces… this is one of probably three or four small pieces, but this was the largest of flute music where I have relatively short sections that expound on, or bring out (I won’t say develop), it’s more or less just presenting worlds of music, and it does it one after the other. It uses quite a few different sound worlds and quite a few different techniques, to bring the idea across. I have to say that in its composition phase, this piece was very systematically organized. I sat down and had seven different musical ideas, and made a nice big graph, sort of as if I was making a patchwork quilt with them. I put them next to each other, on top of each other and behind each other. Then, the ones that were incompatible, I found a creative way to solve, how they could be on top of each other or next to each other. I systematically ordered them, and then after the piece was finished, changed some of the timings and a few of the sounds to make it more mine. When this piece was in progress, I had my only composition lesson. This guy I took the lesson from, he brought out all his theory about how you’d want a hierarchy of events, and how I could develop my system to even more complex means. And I looked at him and I said, “Well, you know, what if I’m not so interested in hierarchy in that way?” And he says, “Well, no one’s ever asked me that question.” I didn’t take it as to be that I would never take another composition lesson, but it informed me that not everyone thinks about music in the same way, and this piece was sort of the last of myself feeling responsible, that I had to give the food a chance in all areas.

[K] [rollin’]is a piece that explores what you call the theatrics of extended techniques.

We listen to rollin’ by Anne La Berge [1:35:20–1:43:18, before moving on to the second part of the interview].

Part 2

Audio Part 2 [0:43:00–1:31:50]

[D] You had mentioned earlier that you were working with one of your students to play one of your pieces, and that you had considered playing it live. I wondered if the lessons that you gave your students tend towards composition, or the type of composition that they might be able to investigate through composition, or if you just do technique.

[ALB] I have such a gamut of abilities and levels and personalities in my student group that I can’t answer that question with anything so specific. I have one student who is a composer/performer, and last week I asked him what he was going to do to change the history of the flute. Which got him kind of riled up. But I have other students [who I ask] “How are you going to get your trill faster?” It really is very specific to the student’s needs, and also if they’re in a degree program, if I’m teaching them in the conservatory, I can’t really say, “Well, now that you can play Bach, shall we compose?” Yeah, that wouldn’t really please the committee, in trying to give a diploma. So, I give them as much as I can in all ways.

[K] Yeah, well since you brought up the question of students, let’s turn to this concert of improvisation for 16 players. It’s really sort of an exciting idea. You said something about what structure something has to have to make a piece. Maybe you can clarify or rephrase what I thought I heard you say there. What do you mean by that?

[ALB] Well, some pieces are most engaging because of the stuff people hear right away, which I would call surface material. And some people can refer to that as “style,” but style I think goes a little deeper. Style would be whether or not you’re wearing Gucci or K-Mart, and surface material would be how great you wear that K-Mart and that Gucci, or how great you put that jewelry on your K-Mart bathing suit, or whatever. So I can’t say that they’re one and the same, but once the piece has its material, the stuff on the outside, what people will listen to right away, then there’s what the composers think a lot about, which for me, I tend to use very intuitively, and that’s structure. That’s how the piece, in the amount of time that’s been set to have, what happens in that piece, if there’s a climax or not, how many, when or where. The sort of things that we in our daily life go through anyway, but those of us who structure pieces want to put somebody through something and the player. If you look at painting, the person standing there looking at the painting is experiencing something. So my idea about going through that would mean that the piece goes over time, so you go through it with the piece.

What was really nice, what I learned a lot about in working with these players, They’re called the Rotterdam Improvisation Pool, and they asked me to come in and show them how I improvise. That was essentially how I interpreted the invitation. I had five rehearsals and the concert. So I came with my CD and a couple of tapes, essentially sort of what we’re doing now, and I gave my spiel about the conceptual basis, and how I went through making these pieces, which as we’ve been talking about are largely based on certain aspects of improvisation. Then they just looked at me, and I thought, “Oh, oh, I bet they want pieces of paper, and I bet they want me to tell them what to do.” Which I didn’t conceive of as being the initial task, of working with this improvisation ensemble. So I came home and said to David, “I think they want me to tell them what to do.” And he said, “Well, people really like that, when you tell them what to do.” Which goes back to “Why would you compose anyway, when you could play other peoples’ music?”

So then I made four pieces based on how I think about different kinds of music. I think in all the pieces, I’m very serious about not having too much climax. That if that occurs, that’s up to the players, that they create something that needs a climax. Otherwise, it’s the energy and the conceptual basis of how they’re going to interact, and how as a group, then, the interaction comes out as a whole. As you mentioned with what I would call the wall of sound, the clusters, the vibrating oil in the pan, that’s one form of interacting that is severely whole, because you can’t separate the individuals. So I went through different kinds of music-making, that are the basis of many of my pieces, where the mission was to — with as much intent as possible — make a whole and still retain their individual identity.

[K] Sixteen players.

[ALB] Well, that was really great. There were a couple people who never got it, they were always sort of floating over it. The concepts had to be strong enough to endure people who didn’t get it, because I didn’t want to say, “Well, just don’t play,” I would just simply say, “Well, you know, yeah, well that’s okay, you play that.” And then to people who understood more deeply what I wanted, we could work farther and farther into the result of the piece.

[K] We’re only going to hear an excerpt, because this is an hour’s worth.

[ALB] Yeah, this was a concert.

[K] Did you give this a name?

[ALB] The names of the pieces were againstance, sondsuite, souped, and bandbound. Perhaps it would be best to play an excerpt of againstance, which is built on relatively the same ideas as never again, and then we could go onto a small excerpt from bandbound, which is based on some of the ideas of suboption.

We listen to excerpts of againstance and bandbound by Anne La Berge [0:51:53–1:20:50].

[D] If you would play in the States, do you have particular venues? Would you do improvisation, or would you play with, say, Jean-Pierre Rampal. How would you do concerts?

[ALB] I play quite a bit in Universities, as a guest concert artist. Then, I’m invited regularly by flute associations to give a day of master classes, talk to composers, and then play a concert. And that’s usually how I tour in the United States.

[D] How long have you been doing that, ever since you got situated here? Or did it take a while?

[ALB] No, I was doing that since 1983. I was actually doing that when I lived in the States, touring with solo concerts and playing festivals, and generally being part of the new music community.

[D] Where do you go from here? What do you in envision in the next, say, six or eight weeks?

[ALB] The near future is that I’m rehearsing very intensely right now with a dancer. We call our project on the fence, to try and build a musical dancer and a moving musician performance, which will include technology and other more complicated embellishments in a performance. But it’s very interesting and very nice to work with him right now, to build this concert which will be next February. And I’m working with two groups who do structured improvisation, and are also playing Christian Wolff and Cornelius Cardew. Christian Wolff being an American composer and Cornelius being a deceased English composer, who both used a lot of improvisation in their work.

And I’ll be at Dartmouth, performing in a few weeks, and then going to Princeton for a residency, playing works of my own, and some works of American and English composers. Also, I’m right now very, very deeply involved in the stages of development of this quarter tone flute, because I’ve been asked to be one of the presenters of the flute. The flute is, right now, in production, but I am playing on a prototype, prototype number two. There some things about it that are handy, and there are some things about it that make my left arm a little sore. I’ve now published an article about the flute that’s been in five different languages, and I’m commissioning composers for a flute and percussion duo, and a flute and accordion duo, to try and bring out as many qualities of this new…

[K] Quarter-tone accordion, too? [Laughter]

[ALB] No, no. It’s not necessarily a quarter-tone. It means you can play microtonal music, with that much more acoustic flexibility.

[K] It could be interesting if you had two accordions, one tuned a quarter-tone away from the other.

[ALB] I think the accordion will be tuned. There’s one piece already that gives the accordion some unusual things to do.

[K] We have one more piece. This is [sic]sauce. What do you mean by [sic]sauce?

[ALB] Well sauce, it’s quite obvious, you put a lot of stuff in sauce, and again, you never know if the parts will make a whole or not. And [sic], that’s a literary [term, meaning] that the thought is actually what you meant. This is written using the computer program, HMSL, developed by Larry Polansky [see interview in this issue of eContact!], Phil Burke and David Rosenboom, who were all at Mills College at the same time, in California. During the development of HMSL in the early 80s, I was used as the performer guinea pig for a lot of the projects, where I’d go up and they’d turn the program on, and I’d play things. Or they’d have me play things or they’d write pieces, and we would see how the computer program would react. I decided that I should also involve myself in writing a program and a piece using the program: it’s very elementary programming that I used. The intention of the piece was to use the idea of counterpoint in quite a few ways. Counterpoint in the sense that the acoustic world of the flute, that we’ve been talking about throughout the interview, is very rich and very funny. Flute music can be very melodic, and also very dramatic, and also very stupid. It just gets to do all these things, and computers, essentially, are slightly dumb, and the human race is working very hard to build these computers that we think might be smarter than we are, but that’s a lot of work. So that was one thing I wanted to just exist in the piece.

The other is that I use a synthesizer, the computer drives a synthesizer, and the synthesizer is not one of the most expensive, complex, pleasurable, sound worlds available. I chose a synthesizer, and I chose the sounds that I would call simply sort of “cheap” sounds. The materials that the computer plays has lot to do with the improvisation, because when I play, I cue the computer and the computer is given options as to what it will do. So every time I play this piece, I’m not sure what the computer will do. And from the recording on the CD, yeah, I just said, “Well, that’s what the computer did this time, and that’s what the synthesizer chose to allow the computer to do this time.” So that was a version of the piece.

[K] So it was just one of the endless number of possibilities.

[ALB] Exactly, yeah.

[K] Anne La Berge, thank you very much for joining us on the Kalvos & Damian New Music Sesquihour.

[ALB] Thank you.

We listen to [sic]sauce by Anne La Berge [1:31:50–1:39:40].

Also see:

Anne La Berge — Interview with Bob Gilmore. Paris Translatlantic Magazine. Amsterdam, Summer 2005.

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