Irritable Hedgehog is associated closely with the trail that you’ve blazed now. What led you and David D. McIntire to form the label initially?
It was a performance of An Hour for Piano that I did. I was intrigued by it, so I did a little performance for friends. David said to his wife, Michelle, that he thought I’d played it about as well as anyone, and at the time only the [Frederic] Rzewski recording existed. She said, “Why don’t you record it?”
That’s where we started, just the idea of recording An Hour for Piano, as well as The Time Curve Preludes – we loved Neely Bruce’s recording, but we felt, just from a technical recording standpoint, that a lot of the effects Bill Duckworth gets from the piano were a little bit lost. So we thought that at least from a producing standpoint, there was something to be improved. And it’s just been sort of one step at a time, whatever sort of weird thing comes our way that’s interesting to both of us. We’re hoping to expand it gradually beyond our own little projects. We’ve done a few things here and there, but we hope to make more of that in the future.
Is it technically a commercial venture, or is it a non-profit, where you have to raise funding for your projects?
It is technically a commercial venture… though it is non-profit. [laughs]
You’ve been among the first American artists to advocate consistently for works by composers of the Wandelweiser Group. Up until a recent column by Alex Ross in The New Yorker, in which you were featured, they hadn’t received a great deal of exposure here. How did you become aware of them?
It was really a bit of crowd-sourcing that brought Jürg Frey to my attention. As I was finishing up my doctorate and basically was preparing to really explore a lot of new repertoire, I just asked a bunch of friends, what should I be looking at? And it was Scott Unrein, who himself is a composer, but he also does the artwork for Irritable Hedgehog, who suggested Frey’s Sam Lazaro Bros. So I emailed “info@wandelweiser” – which ended up being [composer and Wandelweiser founder] Antoine [Beuger], of course – and started getting PDFs.
I was looking through [Frey’s] scores, and I liked what Scott had suggested. But then I came across his Klavierstück II, in which there are the 468 fourths in the middle – which is one thing, but that he had written them all out caught my attention. And I thought, for whatever reason, I have to try this. I had some time on a nice piano and gave it a try, and, I told Dave later, it was the closest to an out-of-body experience that I’ve ever had. I lost track of actually playing the fourths, and the piano became this organ of drones and overtones. And I was just sort of overwhelmed by what he was able to achieve with that. So between that and the fact that his music is so, I would say, maddeningly intuitive – I tend to be quite analytical when looking at music, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how he does what he does.
Frey’s music has a magical quality of seeming inevitability.
Yeah, it’s astounding.
You have another major Frey project on your agenda, and it’s a pretty unorthodox undertaking. Can you describe it?
Yeah, his Buch der Räume und Zeiten, the “Book of Space and Time.” Erik Carlson, the violinist, actually introduced me to this piece; we were putting together a duo program. We didn’t end up doing it, but I came back to it later. There are 21 instrumental parts; it’s for a duo, and so you choose two. Each part is 55 minutes long, and there are also two tape parts, which is why we were able to look at it. And for whatever reason – and for the life of me I can’t remember why – in just looking over the score, I thought, well, gosh, since the scores are timed, it wouldn’t be too difficult to put together. What if we tried to record all of the parts, and then you could hear every single possible combination.
I emailed Jürg a few months ago, and he got back to me a couple of months later and was like, “Yeah, I like the idea.” So we’ve really started moving forward with this. I’m almost to the point of finalizing the complete artists list… it’ll be a lot of known Wandelweiser interpreters, some other well-known new-music folks. I was very pleasantly surprised that at least so far, everyone I’ve contacted has just been absolutely on board with this crazy project.
What is the form in which this project will manifest itself?
There will only ever be two [players] put together, and so, with the 23 different parts, it yields 253 different possible combinations. And what we will do – in fact, I’ve got the website pretty close to being ready to go, it’ll be hosted at BDRUZ.com – what you will do is just select Part 1, select Part 2, and then it’ll jump you over to Bandcamp for that specific track. We’ll have one album with all nine days plus of music, eventually. I double-checked: Bandcamp said they have a limit on track size, but no limit on albums, so we’ll test that.
We’ll do sort of a rolling release, so it’s not just an insane amount of music all at once. Once we get maybe three or four parts ready to go, we’ll put them up there, so it can be sort of gradually explored. I anticipate it’ll probably take at least a year and probably two before we get everything in place. But everyone will record their individual parts, and then we’ll stitch all the combinations together.
So this is conceived, then, as a project that’s basically going to live on the Internet, as opposed to some physical form?
Yeah, primarily digital, although we’ve talked about it. I think what we’ll do, and nothing’s set yet, but make an option that if you want a physical copy of one particular combination, we would have an ordering option for that. But it wouldn’t be our nice digipaks or anything like that; it would just be sort of hand-burned sort of options.