Volti recently “sat down” with Amy Beth Kirsten to discuss her music and upcoming visit for “The Next Page” concerts on November 7 & 8:

V: Hello Amy. What do you hope are the most important elements of It is possible these things do not exist: for an audience?

The piece is inspired by Ursula Le Guin‘s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas“,” but it isn’t necessary to be familiar with the story to understand the piece (although I’d certainly love it if everyone in the audience had the opportunity to read it ahead of time – it’s fantastic!). I was drawn to the story because it paints the picture of a utopian city with an unthinkably dark and horrible secret. How each individual deals with this secret depends upon their own sense of morality. Many of the citizens simply cannot comprehend living happily in the presence of this secret and quietly, and without circumstance, walk away from everything forever. Throughout the story the author is constantly asking the reader if they believe in Omelas and its citizens, which adds an element of doubt about whether any of it exists at all.

My music and text play with the notion of existence (and its opposite) very literally by using extremely clipped sounds to represent the annihilation of language and sound. Contrasting blooming legato represents the birth and life of sound and language. My text is inspired by the descriptions of Omelas and the disturbing secret of at the heart of its splendor. In my text I also make reference to a line from an ancient Japanese poem “Although the wind…” by Izumi Shikibu which is, to me, somehow distantly related to the Le Guin and the idea of annihilation.

V: How do you find inspiration for a new piece?

That’s a good question! For me, each piece is different, but like a lot of artists I’m sometimes inspired by ideas that are outside of my own field – like literature, visual art, science, and theater. When I come upon something that inspires me, often it’s something that I can’t get out of my head. As a result, I have to give it my full attention until I discover what it is that is compelling to me – normally this investigative process involves putting the subject inside a musical lens and composing.

V: You’ve written for Volti twice now—please describe the experience of working with Bob and the singers, and what if anything makes it unique?

ABK: I don’t think I can say enough about Volti and Bob. In fact, I tell all of my students about Volti’s Choral Arts Lab for young composers. The Lab was one of my very first professional experiences as a composer. It was an incredible opportunity to have the chance to workshop a new piece mid-process before it was finished. After my workshop I went home and decided to throw most of the piece away and start over – not because it was bad, but because I thought I could dig deeper and personally get to a new place. As a result of this, I wrote something that was very satisfying to me artistically. Volti performed it with ease and conviction and Bob was a true ally in the whole process. It will be a real treat for me to hear Volti sing this piece again!

This latest collaboration was more in line with the way composers and ensembles normally work – without the benefit of a workshop. We’ve been communicating by email about the piece and at the end of October I’ll get to hear a recording of a rehearsal and give feedback – so up until I come to San Francisco for the world premiere, we’ll all be in a long-distance relationship. The night of the premiere will be the first time I’ll be hearing it live and I truly cannot wait!


V: What music of any genre do you listen to or enjoying hearing in concert?

ABK: I’m not sure the idea of musical genre is something that makes sense to me as I’m listening. The only thing I need for a piece of music to speak to me is honesty, musical character, clarity of musical and conceptual ideas, and a sense that the composer is composing as if her life depends upon it. Okay, so I guess that’s a formidable list of requirements – but if I sense those things emerging in the music, then my ears are happy, or at the very least I’m intrigued enough to do further listening. Rap, country, non-western music, pop, classical, experimental, whatever – I’m interested in exploring it all…but I’m especially interested in those sound worlds which don’t fit easily into any of the above categories.

Thanks to Amy for her insights and creativity. We can’t wait to hear the new piece and Inter-cept with her after the concerts. More info and tickets here.

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