5 Questions to Apply Triangle

Apply Triangle is an electroacoustic trio based in New York comprised of flutist Yoshi Weinberg, clarinetist Tyler Neidermayer, and pianist Jixue Yang. Champions of new works by emerging composers, the ensemble is dedicated to providing a platform for pieces that address modern political, social, and environmental issues.

On April 12, the trio released a monumental triple album entitled Oxalis Triangularis, a project that was developed as an immediate response to the Covid-19 lockdown in the summer of 2020. The ensemble sent out a call for scores, which resulted in the creation of 33 new works for various combinations of electronics and the group’s core instrumentation – all specifically written to be performed and recorded remotely.

At a glance, the scale of this remarkable triptych is overwhelming, with well over two hours of music representing a diverse cross-section of fresh contemporary voices. But each entry proves an engaging and worthwhile listen and never grows monotonous. There is a broad range of stylistic choices that give strong variety to the possible use of electronics, from recorded samples to live effects processing and post-production manipulation.

Some notable examples for me include: Oxidized by Nicholas Fagnilli, which has a free flowing, cinematic feel reminiscent of incidental cues from old Italian giallo movies of the 1970s. Machine-Time Music by Brendan Grossman crescendos from a spacious, pointillistic monotone to a halting, clockwork polyphony punctuated by rhythmic stabs on drum machine samples. If this reaches you by Reilly Spitzfaden projects a retro-futuristic vibe with electronic samples from distorted fax machines, maritime radios and walkie-talkies in contrast with repetitions played by the flute, clarinet and keyboard imitating Morse code, busy signals, and terminated phone lines. And Osmanthus by Li Tao recalls Stravinsky-like pastoral scenes enveloped by ominous clouds of sighing, processed vocal samples.

In all, the lonely melancholy of the Covid lockdown pervades these works as they flutter by with tones of uncertainty, frustration and, at times, curious optimism. On the heels of their debut release, we asked Apply Triangle about the process of curating and recording this massive collection.

Your debut album has been four years in the making. Tell us a little about how Apply Triangle came into being leading up to the 2020 call for scores, and what may be coming next.

Yoshi: Jixue, Tyler, and I met each other at Manhattan School of Music’s Contemporary Performance Program. In 2019, we were offered an opportunity to tour new electroacoustic works in Germany as part of the SinusTon Festival in Magdeburg. Shortly after this tour, our plans for performing live came to a sudden halt as the Covid-19 pandemic hit. We created this plan to have a Call for Scores that would allow us to develop new electro-acoustic works in isolation, recording in our separate living spaces, and mixing them together to release as our debut album.

Jixue: Surprisingly, we received many submissions to our Call for Scores. There were some difficulties and challenges that we had to face during this long collaboration, such as the pandemic environment that had made things uncertain, the new form of collaborating in isolation, and the unstable conditions we had to record in. Because of the hard work we put into the albums, I’m hoping to reach a larger audience and be able to perform some of these works live.

Tyler: Right now we don’t have any upcoming plans for performances, but we do plan to host a listening party in NYC this summer to celebrate the album release!

I’m curious about the title of the project, Oxalis Triangularis. Is there some significance to the “purple false shamrock” and its three triangular petals in addition to the obvious theme of referencing the number three (three players, three volumes, thirty-three pieces…)?

Yoshi: As we were devising names for this album, we were interested in including something representing the number three as you have guessed. I’m a big plant person, and the name “triangularis” was an obvious fit for our “triangle” obsessed group. I was also interested in the fact that the oxalis triangularis leaves are nyctinastic, meaning their leaves fold up in the evening and spread out during the daytime; a sort of symbol of resilience and self-preservation that I found comforting during the pandemic.

Jixue: Yoshi is a plant expert! As soon as I saw the picture of the oxalis triangularis that they had grown at home, I knew it would be a poetic match. The number 3 is very special to me. In Taoist cosmology, the Tao gives rise to 1 (the undifferentiated ultimate reality), 1 gives rise to 2 (yin and yang), and 2 gives rise to 3, which then creates all things. The number 3 held significant symbolic meaning as I was growing up. Coincidentally, our identities seem to incorporate many elements of 3.

Tyler: We’ve always been about triangles and groups of threes in different references ever since we started playing together, and it was a happy coincidence that there ended up being 33 composers who completed works for us. The project went untitled for a long time, but Yoshi being our resident plant expert showed us the oxalis and we all knew it had to be the title. I think we decided on the plant as our album name the same time we were discussing album artwork ideas with Alissa Voth, so including pictures of Yoshi’s plant in the design was a no brainer.

Oxalis Triangularis (Vol 1-3) -- Cover art by Alissa Voth

Oxalis Triangularis (Vol 1-3) — Cover art by Alissa Voth

What was the group’s process for assembling these compositions, and how prominent is Apply Triangle’s thumbprint on the final product in comparison with what the composers provided?

Yoshi: We did a social media call online for composers to submit a proposal for our project. All in all, 33 composers submitted a complete proposal for a new work. The composers were free to compose whatever they wished (as long as it incorporated electronics and was under the time limit of 5 minutes), which led to a huge variety of projects to embark upon.

Jixue: To me, this project highlights the art of indeterminacy, whereas you know exactly what each step is but can never predict the outcome. After discussing the scores with the composers, recording the samples and tracks, I began to wait eagerly to hear how everything I had done would be arranged, utilized, and perceived in the final mixes. Although this has been an experience unlike any other I’ve had—and might never have again—the mysterious allure of the process is just as captivating to me as a member of the production team as it is for our audiences.

Tyler: We had involvement in all of these works on every stage from the composers’ first drafts to the final mixing and processing stages. The scores often required us to build Ableton sessions with click tracks that we each record into and pass to the next person, others we would record our parts individually and edit together in the DAW. When we conceived of this recording project, I don’t think any of us really understood how much influence the production process would have on these pieces. It’s a great privilege to not only play on these pieces, but to also develop how we fit together in stereo space with processing or in relation to the electronics and how minute the details can be.

Apply Triangle -- Anna Yatskevich

Apply Triangle — Anna Yatskevich

Jixue refers to the instability of her recording environment resulting in a type of imperfection that makes each piece unique and “non-replicable.” Should we consider these works to be musique concrète, or is there potential that they could live on in future performances?

Yoshi: These pieces are deeply ingrained in our bones at this point, but we also want them to live outside of this project and continue to have a life past us! That being said, some of the works live as musique concrète because of the way they were conceived and designed. Others will certainly work in a live performance context as well.

Jixue: Despite encountering technical difficulties and pianistic challenges in some of the works, the “non-replicable” aspects primarily come from the environments and limited conditions I experienced for several pieces. In the initial months of the pandemic, I only had access to an out-of-tune upright piano and a keyboard. As time progressed, I regained access to grand pianos, albeit under suboptimal conditions. Recording on different pianos at my school had become my only option at the time because scheduling was complicated. Throughout this process, especially when recording numerous versions of the same passages, they felt like pieces assembled into a collage, as the designs and abstraction of the music weighed heavily, unexpectedly aligning with musique concrète without intention.

Tyler: With all scores there’s the potential for future performances from us or any other groups that would like to play them! These albums represent the circumstances the three of us had to work with, and are very much a form of musique concrète from how the recordings were made. We hope the music on Oxalis Triangularis keeps existing in many different iterations and interpretations.

As the world and our community continues to rebound from the pandemic, how do you think the concept of “alone together” has permanently changed the way we think about making music?

Yoshi: Being separate and isolated can be difficult, but it can also be a place of creativity, resilience, and change. While we had to be alone in order to record these tracks, we found that we are now more connected than ever because of it. Maybe it’s because loneliness and isolation isn’t permanent, or maybe it’s because we had this end goal all along. Even though our journey of recording, re-recording, editing, mixing, mastering, promoting, etc. was long, strenuous, and isolating at times, we have created something that connects many artists and musicians from across the globe. Perhaps Oxalis Triangularis is a representation of our collective global trauma, or perhaps it is something different. Either way, it is ours together.

Jixue: Distance is a complicated concept. I never felt so profoundly alone until things were becoming unreachable. During this unusual time I learned a great deal about myself. Knowing that everyone was facing similar struggles helped me combat my loneliness. In this sense, we were and will never be apart. Nowadays, when I worry that I might misinterpret the music or that others might misunderstand my music, I’m less concerned. I’ve reached a stage where I fully accept these misunderstandings, believing that every instance of “loneliness” is intrinsically part of “togetherness”.

Tyler: Echoing Jixue, I think that before the pandemic I was much more concerned with how the music I made was being interpreted and reviewed and was more for the audience than it was for me. Now, and especially after this project, I find that music-making has to be for myself or for our ensemble first. We made these recordings for us and for the composers first and foremost. That friends and strangers alike now come together to discover this music and celebrate the release with us has been beautiful.


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