5 questions to David Coll (Composer)

MATA-logoMATA 2012 is happening right now for the first time at Roulette, and we wanted to take the time to talk to one of the composers featured on the April 20th concert SIGNS AND SIGNALS: David Coll. David has studied at the University of Illinois, IRCAM in Paris (Cursus and Cursus 2), and at the University of California-Berkeley, receiving his PhD in December 2010. He now lives and works in Belgium.

Position, Influence (2010), for soprano and electronics will be performed by Mellissa Hughes this coming Friday and we were really curious about that piece…

How did you discover the de Gaulle speeches that you used as a textual source for Position, Influence?

It was part of the journey of gathering material for the piece. I remember spending a lot of time with Pasolini actually, but his poetry was underwhelming compared to his highly charged films. I looked at Isidore Isou as well, but nothing came together. Finally, getting more into the Enrages and the Situationists, I realized I needed to look at some historical documents. I subscribed to INA (Ed. French for National Audiovisual Institute) and all of a sudden I see de Gaulle (Ed. Charles de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969). What an incredible look and figure, I thought.

In fact the pieces opening line (Je ne me retirerai pas / I will not step down! (from office)) is the only fragment that is De Gaulle. And it is his first statement after returning from abroad and having the Mai 68 events already in full force. After that, the piece moves in many directions, and the text is mine actually.

David Coll

David Coll

How does your piece echo with the upcoming Occupy Spring 2012 and the Presidential elections?

My work 68 deals specifically with the occupation movement during the Mai 68 events in Paris. At the time I was reaching back and forward at once. I wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of Mai 68 and to acknowledge its vitality to this day. Sarkozy had recently said publicly that in order for France to move forward it must forget Mai 68 (or something to this effect). People were shocked and appalled. So I decided that the occupy aspect to this month of social upheaval was the most empowering quality. To make a long story short, it was derided as ‘naive’ by LeMonde at the time (2008), and now you see this very same spirit emerging not only in New York and Oakland but throughout all psychogeographical space.

There were two muses for Position, influence: Segolene Royal and Hillary Clinton, both of whom were campaigning at the time (2007).  I am a deeply political person, and this work was the beginning of it all. This is a longer story, about some very formative years abroad.

Why did you decide to write for soprano? And why in French (I assume you are fluent)?

I wanted to compose for Donatienne Michel-Dansac ever since I heard her perform Philippe Leroux’s ‘VoieREX’ live at Royaumont in 2004. I was further convinced of her capabilities in theatre seeing her work with Georges Aperghis. When the opportunity arrived to collaborate with her for my first IRCAM performance, I took a long while to reflect on how the piece could be both mine and hers. So you see its more about one person than the voice type. What I’ve found so encouraging is that each soprano since her has upped the ante, so to speak. They’ve made it their own, finding their own voice and persona in the work.

I wouldn’t say I’m fluent in french, especially when it comes to reading poetry, but yeah, I can speak pretty well. As for texts, I prefer to compose in the language of the country I’m in. In fact, I very much want a transliteration of this work into english, but I can’t seem to sell the idea well to anyone! I’m beginning another collaboration w/a french singer, one some New Yorkers might know, named Fabienne Seveillac. She has been pushing Perec on me. I find it perhaps a bit too playful, though I must read more.

Most recently I’ve been experimenting in collage, and the Burroughs cut-up technique. I want to bring out the humor and absurdity in text. In order to do this I don’t need a poet, I need a newspaper.

IRCAM - Photo by dietadeporte/Flickr

IRCAM - Photo by dietadeporte/Flickr

How did your work at IRCAM influence your music?

My work at IRCAM was my music. Sure, I knew lots about technology and learned more there, but what IRCAM did was support my very unique, bizarre, absurd, and electrifying experiments.

Theres a cast of characters in that place that puts any other institute to shame. I mean, its a big fishbowl where everyone sees everyone else, shares ideas, gossips. People are constantly coming and going and you feel alive because of it all. I can’t think of one specific experience, but I was over there a couple months ago, and my old teachers and I went out to lunch. It was like nothing changed. The intensity of it all was still there.

Could you tell us more about Ice on the High?

The mission of Ice on the High is stated on my website. Kim Anno, Ricardo Rivera and I are interested in creating experiences through our own work and curation that shows to the audience that there are consequences in their actions. We try to create situations where this may open to thinking about cultural and ecological sustainability. We are looking to continue our work, but its difficult at the moment because I live and work in Belgium.

David Coll’s piece Position, Influence (2010), for soprano and electronics will be performed on Friday, April 20, at Roulette. For more information about MATA visit: http://www.matafestival.org

Purchase tickets on the Roulette website: http://www.roulette.org