MR: A transcendent moment.
EW: Yeah, sure, you could put it that way, too. I sort of want to find ways of getting to that place, and so there are various strategies for that that have to do with maximizing intensity through the way in which the material is chosen and shaped, the way in which formal things are deployed and structured. One thing that I think about a lot is just pacing, proportions – I want zero-fat music. I want everything to be functional. And that allows me, in an ideal scenario, to also be very minimal with what I do, I think. That’s my ideal: to be simple, to be direct, and to have an intense care for the material and its proportions lead under those conditions to something that can feel really compelling, really enveloping, internally coherent and consistent but also totally surprising in its momentary formal gambits.
And then also, I love sound [laughs], so that’s a big thing. I love very big, blocky forms, where things change abruptly. I think maybe that’s another big aesthetic dichotomy that’s out there at the moment, pieces that are just kind of monolithic and all one thing – but I love that, when it’s done well, where things really change in a piece. You’re really drawn out of it. It’s really arresting when big formal things happen. And then just really strong material, sounds that are… they can be very beautiful, very ugly, very raw, very strained, whatever it is. In most cases, things that are maybe not 100 percent familiar from other contexts, just because I feel like I want that sense of curiosity – it takes you a second to figure out what that is and what’s going on with it, which I think is another way of getting enveloped in the experience. If you’re asked to solve that little puzzle, it engages you, it hooks you and draws you in.
All of my secondary metaphors these days are food-based… [laughs] It’s like the type of food that I love to eat; I just want every bite to be taking advantage of everything that your sensory apparatus has to offer. I want it to be…
MR: 100 percent, every time.
EW: Why wouldn’t you?
MR: Why wouldn’t you want all the best things, all the time? I feel like people often talk about how complex your music is, and how dense it is. But my feeling is exactly as you said: it’s quite minimal. There’s nothing without purpose. There’s never anything that is just there. And I feel like I have a bit of a negative association with the term complex, or complexity. That just makes me think about people who use computers to make calculations to make as many notes as possible. And arbitrary – complex means arbitrary to me, and to me your music is the opposite of that. Everything is extremely purposeful, and also extremely emotional – I feel like your music is incredibly emotional, always. There’s many academic things about it, it’s very informed, and you obviously have done a ton of research that informs your music. But at the core of that, I feel like there’s always so much movement, and so much human empathy and thought, in your music. And that’s kind of a remarkable balance of things.
EW: That’s definitely what I strive for. I don’t shy away from the idea that an experience could be rich and complex; it’s just that that word has become kind of loaded in ways that we need to dance around a bit. But that’s definitely the ideal; that’s what makes a saturated, immersive experience, is layers. I love stuff that I can go back to and watch again and again, listen to again and again, and I think you only get that when it’s really been fussed over. It’s hyper-edited. The pacing, it’s not an accident. Think of your favorite comic, their timing – their routine has been honed so much.
The TV shows that I love… have we ever talked about The Eric André Show? I’m completely obsessed with that show, and one of the things that makes it so good is the editing – and it’s tenths of a second. Why is that cut there, and not 20 milliseconds later? That really matters. It’s the difference between something that I will watch six times in a row, and something that I’ll watch once, laugh at, and then forget about. So, ways of fighting against disposable content, ways of really standing up for… what do we want? At the end of the day, I want art. I want the thing that art has always been, which is a meaningful experience that is layered and rich, that’s on some level a dialogue, even if it’s an out-of-time dialogue, between two different minds that light each other up in various ways.
MR: That’s like the quote of the evening: “fighting against disposable content.”
EW: Yeah, but that is what I see as one of the big battles. In art, in life, it’s just a huge thing that we’re up against. And you really have to fight for it, because it is not easy to do. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of work, and you could get away with less.
MR: You can always get away with less. I think it takes a huge personal investment to choose to live that way, as well.
EW: But people respond to it, in my experience, and that’s what makes it worthwhile. Even just going on SoundCloud and watching some undergrad in wherever listening to your track 17 times a day…all right, I know I’ve got this very obsessive music, but if someone else is getting obsessed with it, too, then that validates it, too, on some level.
MR: I also wanted to ask, what is the appeal of duos for you? You just released a duos album, and there’s going to be another one.
EW: I’ve thought about that a fair amount – I don’t know that I’ve got a ready-to-go answer. It just seems to be my medium, on some level, something that is close to my heart. Obviously every medium like that is a kind of symbol for some kind of social structure, too, so there’s something about the directness – it’s sort of the most essentialized, reduced version of human interaction. Solo pieces feel solipsistic to me, and I’m almost completely disinterested in them. Orchestra is something that’s just problematic to me, politically. The duo is this crystalized version of self-and-other that, in almost every case in this series, the starting point is, how do I take these two things and make something unified out of them, that partakes of both of their natures, but also finds a way of synthesizing those in some way?
The piano is both my instrument and what I see as a symbol of clunky, rational thought, its inability to play in a non-equal tempered way, which I find ways of subverting with preparations and all that. It’s definitely this thing that needs to be kind of melted down from its rigidness by the influence of the other instrumental personality in some way, in most of these pieces. It’s become totally integral to that series to go through these long processes of months of material, hunting, refining, writing the piece, performing it, revising it, touring with it, recording it, all that stuff. That’s way easier to do with two people than with seven, so that dimension has been important to it, too.
MR: I also want to ask you about the quartet [being-time, composed by Wubbels for the Mivos Quartet], which is coming out maybe soon?
EW: Yeah, the recording is done, so we’re putting it in the pipeline to be released.
MR: To me, that piece is a bit different than some of your other pieces. It’s maybe… I’m trying to think of the right word to describe it. It’s incredibly internal, in a way. It’s very… I don’t want to say dark. It’s not dark. Maybe you can describe better what that piece is? It’s very special.
EW: When you set out to write an hour-long piece, the thing sitting on your shoulder is “the great piece,” the idea of that. And the string quartet genre, too. So it’s hard to kind of keep knocking that thing down, and just try to write music. But definitely there’s a huge amount of conceptual underpinning for that piece. It was a huge project having to do with the psychological experience of time, and how that kind of feels in an aesthetic domain. Which, again, as soon as you start talking about it just seems ludicrously pretentious. It’s a function of scale. It’s weighty on some level, but also the first movement has some huge silences in it, so there’s this sense that you’re in these voids for a while before things start to get filled in. That might account for some of that feeling that you were describing. On the whole, when I look back at that piece I feel like it was an attempt to just kind of create an alternate reality that you could live in for a while, that you could visit.
It’s also very experimental; there’s even a form of the piece that I feel like we haven’t even done yet, which is, the fifth part of it is kind of all of the previous four parts at once, and I feel like there is a version of the piece that is just a recorded installation, in which you could combine everything in the first four parts in an infinite number of ways, and it’s almost a Stockhausen thing where one second could give you a picture of the whole, and there could be thousands of different versions of that single second. So it’s a piece that functions as an hour-long concert piece; listen to the fifth part and you get a very strong sense of all the material in the piece in 10 minutes, without having to sit through the extended version of it.
MR: But I think the scale is something that’s very important to the piece, and I think that’s something people often shy away from, being able to play with that type of scale. Especially in contemporary music, people don’t understand how difficult that is for people who are not inside the contemporary-music world to deal with.
EW: Syntax is really tricky. Just sustaining functional meaning in a post-tonal vocabulary over huge spans is always the challenge, especially with material that’s not totally monolithic. That’s where all the wacky tuning stuff helps, to build structures that you can hang things on. I’m looking forward to that project – the format of the recording just putting enough of a structure, too, that we can finally wrap it up, send it out into the world, and get some feedback.