26 June 2017

Interview - Raimonda Ziukaite

After the usual end of term faff, and moving back to the UK, I am finally in a position to return to the blog. And what a time too! I have got the response from a fascinating young composer who agreed to be interviewed for the page. 

The composer in question is Raimonda Ziukaite, and those who have seen previous posts will notice how positive I have been about a lot of her output in recent months. I find, as composer, she is really growing into something very interesting, so I was extremely enthusiastic when she agreed to the interview. 

Labukas Raimonda, firstly to start off things – how would you describe your music to a newcomer who is not familiar with your work?

Labuka. Well, if this is a newcomer to contemporary music in general I would firstly say: 

'it will be weird, you know… you might not like it.'

But if it’s a person, already familiar with contemporary music, then I would say my compositions have a clear idea, gradual process, homogeneity, multilayers. Some pieces are atmospheric, some are energetic, full of vitality (like nature element), and I wish to create more of this 'powerful sound' (like in heavy rock/metal). I don’t like scattered gestures and eclecticism, which I find in the most of contemporary music. In my opinion, music should have a form/inner logic a recipient could grasp. However, I think I still haven’t achieved 'my style', this specific, personal sound I can imagine, I’m still on the way to it. In addition, from 2013 I’m researching a (major/minor) triads and their systematic voice leading networks which might be used in composition. (Later it appeared it has to do with Neo-Riemannian theory). Currently I’m pursuing my doctor degree on it. My ambition is to establish a composition system based on a triad as a structural unit.   

Within your work, I notice an intense philosophical focus. The works each seem to be a playground for your own discoveries and contemplations – how do you feel achieve this within your work?

My motto is to 'never repeat myself'. It could be quite a childish, idealistic, naïve attitude, but I don’t want to produce, 'make' music randomly, thus kind of polluting the aether. For each new work there should be a new and pure idea, which is then developed by structural-processual thinking. During my study years, I used to create like this: let’s say that the idea for the piece will be harmonic (overtone) series and prime numbers. So I’m taking only prime numbers from the harmonic series and constructing 4 series, then permutating and getting 4 layers of it, for the rhythmic applying… guess what…prime numbers again!  (Prime Galaxy). In this way, everything is justified, each note doesn’t come from nowhere (blame it on the structure!). Or I’m taking a harmonic/overtone series and making another 4 rows (untertones, inversions, retrogrades), and then building additional series from each of the member of prime series (like fractals). Thus I’m getting my 'field of musical material' of a perfect structure and then comes the most difficult question: so what? How to transform it to real musical piece, how to play it? Then one needs to figure out adequate textures… Of course, this way of composing lacks personal expression and now I’m willing to involve more of my imagination and hearing into composing. Another curious thing: one teacher said 'but you control everything except the resulting sound itself.' But, working with structures, sometimes it comes nice accidental things. In the case of Vilniaus Bokštai, the structure came into beautiful shapes of towers like score painting and in the end sounded jazzy D7. People thought I done it on purpose, but it was the structure itself! On Chromatography I even saw triads as colours and composed quite intuitive, according the vision of colours. After an analysis, the piece appeared to have a logic structure anyway.

Which composers have most inspired your work? Either directly or just on philosophical levels?

First of all, my teacher Ricardas Kabelis, maybe not as a role model of a composer in terms of his music (never wanted to copy him), but as a very influential teacher, who over 6 years taught me the methods and principles of composition. Talking about sound aesthetics, I enjoy to listen to Michael Gordon and Julie Wolfe (Bang on a Can), Fausto Romitelli, Gérard Grisey, Per Nørgård, Georg Friedrich Haas (limited approximations). My recent discovery was Francesco Filidei. Although his style is an opposite side of the sound of my works, but it really grabbed my attention. And from Lithuanian composers I like music of Žibuokle Martinaitytė, Justė Janulytė, Nomeda Valančiūtė, Egidija Medekšaitė (it’s a coincidence that all are women!) and some more.

During my time here in Vilnius, I see the contemporary music scene is still coming to terms with what it wants to be. Would you agree with this statement? And where do you think it is going? How do you think you fit into the scene?

Firstly, it’s a very small community, and furthermore, some styles/techniques are more frequent here, as if there would be some 'Lithuanian' (or maybe Baltics) sound: slow, nostalgic, meditative music one could call 'Lithuanian minimalism'. There isn’t so much variety in styles (like for example, there isn’t much of new complexity, (thanks God...). Some trends come to Lithuania later as well, although now more and more of young generation goes abroad and gain experience there so the situation might change. Anyway, maybe it’s in my blood (ears), but I enjoy Lithuanian scene/sound.

My relation to it is not so obvious, since so far I don’t feel like I’m making a big career being an important name here. Moreover, somehow I feel repelled from a traditional career path of a contemporary composer: writing for classical instruments, contemporary music ensembles and composing another piece sounding the same as my colleagues. As if there is some born-hardwired need to be an outsider in general, I would love to find my own, personal, unique niche in music scene. The middle way, the average is always the safest, but I’m more tending to 'everything or nothing', although not always having courage for it. I often ask myself, what is the purpose of all this? Maybe that’s why I’m quite unproductive.

That might be related with the feeling I get while listening to contemporary music (and now I’m not talking about Lithuania scene). What is bad with it everywhere: mostly it doesn’t strike. Everybody in the world is making 'something' but rarely it grabs attention, it affects. Composers (I’m not an exception) composing for themselves, solving some issues in their heads which are interesting only for them or, in other words, playing some mind games and then expressing it through music, but the outcome sometimes are like 'meh': me as the listener sitting in a concert and dreaming or even (if it’s really boring) starting to read something... Not mentioning that most of the pieces in that concert sounds the same and you can’t remember them. The popular music wins at least due to its ability to ignite some emotions. The academic contemporary music has this potential too, sometimes even succeeds, but that’s more an exception. 

What are you currently working on? Are there any major works in the pipeline?

Since I’m studying for a doctor’s degree (to be exact, A.D. – doctor of arts) now, I need to fulfill my 'doctor plan' – this makes me a bit more productive (usually I used to compose only one piece per year!) This spring I was composing for ensemble and decided to do everything totally opposite as I’m used to, like an experiment (the piece Katedros involved aleatoricism, extended playing techniques, Baroque music quotes). In addition, this half year witnessed a revival of songwriting for a rock band. Among the nearest future plans is to make algorithmic composition by applying neo-Riemannian theory and of course to find my place, this unique niche I mentioned before, in a music world. J

To finish, if you were on a desert island, what five recordings/vinyls/CDs would you have with you?

Now I won’t mention contemporary music. I would take my own playlist/mixtape of various artists 'Songs of my Life'- songs, which contain some kind of emotional charge to me. These would include some music of Pink Floyd, Agalloch, Alcest, My Bloody Valentine, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan’s song Knocking On Heavens Door and some Lithuanian songs to remind home. And in case there is no electricity in that island, I would bring a music instrument to play and sing myself.

A rather interesting interview indeed, I am definitely looking forward to see how she continues to grow as a composer. For those curious, you can find all her recordings here. And once my luggage finally appears in my flat, I can start going over my new collections of CDs from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. So until then!

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