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Interviews

Vijay Iyer: Into The Mainstream

By Published: December 21, 2009
Orchestral And Stage Compositions

Iyer completed a commission for his first full orchestral piece, "Interventions" in 2007. The work premiered in March of that year, to excellent reviews. Of classical writing, he says, "It's about the opportunities that come. I was commissioned by an orchestra to do that piece, and I've also written some chamber music for a string quartet and wind quintet. I'd love to do things like that. It takes me outside my immediate comfort zone and makes me learn something. So it's just about when the opportunities come. It takes a lot of time. I think I've never spent as much time on 15 minutes of music as I did to make that orchestra piece (laughs). I took about nine months to make 15 minutes of music."

Iyer also wrote the music for a theatre piece, Betrothed (2007), written and directed by Rachel Dickstein: "The theatre director (Dickstein) is also the choreographer. And I've also written for films and I've done TV music and I've done remixes—I've had a lot of interesting opportunities to do things all over the map. I try to bring my sensibility to each of those situations and really just try to work with the challenge that it presents."

He has plenty of experience with orchestral music, given that he grew up playing violin in classical orchestras. His classical listening now focuses on modern composers, rather than the 19th century repertoire he used to play: "When I do (listen), it's for the composers like some of the composers I mentioned earlier: Ligeti and so forth. I learn from that. But I grew up playing in orchestras—I play violin. I played a lot of it. That sound I know from the inside. When I made that orchestral piece, I checked out a lot of more recent stuff because I wanted to deal with 'What's the modern arsenal that people are dealing with as composers?,' but I don't find myself listening a whole lot to orchestral music nowadays. I guess I tend to like the smaller-scale stuff. That's just where I'm at right now. It's more satisfying to see what people are able to do, how much one can do with how little—that sort of thing (laughs). That's the interesting question to me right now. Maybe it's something about the economy that's making me think this way!"

The Future

Historicity may be the first album Iyer has made that is largely comprised of covers of other writers' tunes, but this step is not necessarily a lasting new direction. He is not committing yet to a particular approach for the next recording. The trio is busy playing to audiences in the next year: "We're doing quite a bit of touring in the coming year, so I'm sure some new possibilities will reveal themselves just through that.

"I have other projects as well in the works. I'm working on a new project with Mike Ladd dealing with (Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans), which is going to come together in the next couple of years. (Working with Ladd) comes together over a pretty long, intensive period, and it's always pretty organic the way it builds, but in this case we really want to work with ... people from the veteran community (and to) try to build something with them, about them and for them.

"All my other collaborations are ongoing as well. Fieldwork is still doing performances and developing new music. My duo with Rudresh is still working quite a bit and we are also hoping to make a second album sometime in the coming years, and I have other collaborations going on—some stuff outside of music even. I'm doing a sound installation with this film maker Bill Morrison (maker of the much lauded avant-garde film Decasia, for example. Morrison has made several films in collaboration with current composers) in an abandoned prison in Philadelphia. So that's coming up next year. He's created this freestanding film work (with) loops and it's about 15 minutes long and I'm creating sound work that goes along with that.



Selected Discography

Wadada Leo Smith, Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2009)

Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT, 2009)

Vijay Iyer, Tragicomic (Sunnyside, 2008)

Fieldwork, Door (Pi Recordings, 2008)

Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd, Still Life With Commentator (Savoy Jazz, 2007)

Vijay Iyer/Rudresh Mahanthappa, Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz, 2006)

Vijay Iyer, Reimagining (Savoy Jazz, 2005)

Fieldwork, Simulated Progress (Pi Recordings, 2005)

Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd, In What Language (Pi Recordings, 2004)

Vijay Iyer, Blood Sutra (Artist House, 2003)

Vijay Iyer, Panoptic Modes (Red Giant Records, 2002)

Fieldwork, Your Life Flashes (Pi Recordings, 2002)

Vijay Iyer, Architextures (Red Giant Records, 1998)

Vijay Iyer, Memorophilia (Asian Improv, 1995)

Photo Credits

Jimmy Katz


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