As SFCMP prepares to perform Sam’s Piano Trio , we spoke with him about the piece:
Q: One of the most interesting aspects of your Piano Trio is the pairing of very sophisticated motivic, rhythmic, and harmonic idioms with an easily discernible structure and fairly transparent development of ideas. Could you speak a little about this?
SA: This piece is very much an experiment in classical formalism. I found it a satisfying gesture to break away from working with unconventional forms, which is what my focus had been prior to writing the trio. The piece has all the elements of a Sonata Allegro form: three large formal sections, a coda, a Da Capo, but it is condensed, kaleidoscopic, and functions using a harmonic language I have been developing for some years. It was a lot of fun and very liberating to work this way.
Q: Continuing along the same path, it’s interesting to see titles and clips from performances of pieces like Woman Bomb and GAIN alongside compositions like the Piano Trio. Do you try to maintain a binding current throughout your oeuvre (you mention in the program note that the trio is a sort of acoustic “consequent” to your “antecedent” electronic works) or do you prefer just to jump in and immerse yourself in whatever you feel potential in?
SA: I have always had an adaptive personality, and I think one of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer (especially a young one) is working in many different contexts. So, I tend to say ‘yes’ to projects that involve unfamiliar territory. Perhaps this is haphazard behavior – just jumping in, so to speak – but it has been rewarding and fascinating thus far. I am not so concerned with carefully maintaining a ‘binding current’ through my catalogue. That seems too Apollonian for my personality.
Q: The Piano Trio combines the wide tessitura of the piano with interesting uses of articulation, rhythm, and bowing in the strings, creating strong convergences and contrasts of timbre. Could you talk about how you, a composer of electronic music, approached this piece in terms of the extremely diverse palette provided by its instrumentation? How do you explore timbre factors in general?
SA: To me, timbre is simply another expressive component of music. When I am trying to express something, I pay attention to timbre the same way I pay attention to harmony, rhythm, what have you. This piece expresses itself in a number of ways, so, naturally, its timbral world is ever-shifting.
Q: Tension Studies is the only piece we’ve found of yours that includes the use of an amplified instrument, in this case, the electric guitar. How do you, as an electro-acoustic musician approach such sonic intermediates as loudspeakers and amplifiers? Are they separate instruments or as much a part of the same body as, say, the strings and the resonant surfaces of a violin?
SA: I think the role of loudspeakers and amplifiers change depending on the piece. With live electro-acoustic works like Tension Studies, the processing and resonating bodies are part of the instrument, as the performer is making decisions about how the electronics function during the performance. For fixed works, like Gain and some other pieces, this is not the case. The music is plastic like a painting – or a sculpture. In these cases, the listening experience is not influenced by the whims of a human being during a performance.
The Piano Trio will be performed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 (more information).
Samuel Carl Adams will be a featured panelist for Young American Composers and the Legacy of John Cage on Friday, October 26, 2012 (more information).