This interview is a conversation between Andrea Mazzariello and Operating System founder / managing editor, Lynne DeSilva-Johnson — it appears in the archival backmatter of his 2018 book with The OS, One More Revolution, launching 1/29 at Happy Lucky №1 Gallery in Brooklyn NY, in simultaneous launch with the author’s composition, Wake / Rise, on One More Revolution records — multi percussionist, David Degge, will also perform a piece he commissioned from Mazzariello, “Home/Body.”
How would you choose to introduce yourself?
Good question. I don’t know that I understand the stakes here. So I’ll just say: hi. I’m Andrea Mazzariello. I compose, perform, write, and teach. I am trying to bring all of those practices together, so I don’t have so much “medium anxiety.”
Do you consider yourself equally musician/composer/writer? Are there other equally important disciplines, influences, labels or other words you’d want to call our attention to that we might not know that you feel are important in understanding your creative practice?
Equally? No. I write constantly, every morning as ritual, and for a million reasons throughout the day. Language propels everything that I do, even though I am “more” composer than writer on paper. But what if I composed music for every email response? I fantasize about embedding music in my practice so completely that it feels something like language feels.
As for other words: I think my approach to music is almost more physiological than aural. I love the physical connection to instruments. I love the feeling of being pulled apart that defines instrumental multitasking. Bodily knowing defines what I do, as much as hearing.
If we didn’t get asked “what do you do” and force ourselves to fit into easily consumable disciplinary categories, what would you like your title to be, if anything?
Maker of Things, Teacher of Making.
Why do you write? is the answer to “why do you create” or “why do you make music” very different?
I write to try to know what I don’t yet know. Often my writing is driven by a dilemma, or a dare. How can I get these conflicting ideas to coexist? How is it that I feel THIS and THAT, and how can I work through it in language? I write because the process teaches me something I didn’t know before I set out.
Music is different. I’m after a bodily engagement, a physical knowing, celebration, ritual. I don’t come away from my music feeling like I made a discovery that I could explain in words. As a composer I am more interested in what our bodies experience as makers and listeners than in the kinds of knowing that writing affords.
What is the role of the creative practitioner today? What do you see as your cultural and social role (creative community and beyond)?
I want to be a part of a long line of makers whose work makes other makers feel less crazy. I have had the experience of feeling as though creative work has issued to me an imperative to make, to contribute, to join in. I want to be able to do that for others. Maybe not issuing imperatives so much. Providing encouragement, trying to grant permission. Carving a possible path off of which someone else can carve their possible path. It’s exciting for me to imagine all of us creative misfits forming this human chain, down through history, and glommed together in the present moment.
Talk about the process or instinct to move this project into a published body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?
I think I initially was following the well-worn path of trying to get a book deal from a dissertation! I pitched academic presses, did all of that. Got some nice rejections, and some form letters, and some nonresponses I think, though I am so used to that sort of thing I can barely remember the specifics. I had a sense that there could be an audience for the work, though. I really like to read aloud, and some of the prose passed that test, and so I fantasized about a book in which all of the prose could pass that test, and I could make a version of an essentially academic study that could also be a bedtime story or something.
And then I found out about the OS, after having basically tabled the whole idea, bookmarked it intending to come back, but realistically I might never have come back without having heard about you all and what you do. And that’s when you got my dissertation, and said YES. Then the issue was, with the gate open, what passes through? What version of these ideas? The thing that was already written or the thing I’d been imagining? Guess what?
With OMR, which began as a scholarly project, there was quite an involved evolution of rigorous development, iteration, and editing that led to the end result readers are holding in their hands — some of which was in response to the contemporary cultural framework (of the United States in 2016 and early 2017) within which we produced that final manuscript. Can you talk a little more about your decision making process?
I referenced the big decision a moment ago: formal-ish, academic-ish work, or some kind of thing I that I really wanted to write, in a different sort of voice? What would it mean to rewrite the project completely, write through the project, transform it word by word? Which is what I did. And then the walls started closing in with respect to the election and I really questioned why anyone needed to write a book about records and syntax and such. And that’s not something I’ve entirely resolved. I wrote it, but I never felt like I could really connect this sense of suffocation with the work I was doing. The writing gave me some peace, gave me some joy in a very difficult time. But it doesn’t engage overtly, and I am coming to terms with that in this work and in my work in general.
Tell us more about the relationship between scholarship and poetics/writing in your life and practice — Can you shine some light on how or if OMR is representative of your body of work, scholarship, or practice outside of this volume? In your opinion, what can creative practitioners, even outside the academy, gain from scholarship, and what can scholars, even outside of creative practice, gain from both making and engaging with creative forms such as music, poetics, etc?
I should say that scholarship as a term is a bit of a moving target for me. Are we talking about research and analysis that then lives in prose? Or about composition on paper, which is another way that scholarship can be measured, by search committees and such? I guess I think of it as academic currency of a sort, and I am encouraged by the ways that this currency is changing, the musical worlds and narrative voices and other forms that now “count” as scholarship that perhaps were excluded before. Ideally we are in a place where doing our work for its own sake is valuable, where we do that work in a community that has a certain amount of self-awareness, that is reflective on its own practices, and that is defined by enthusiasm and curiosity about learning and about making. That’s academic work at its best and artistic work at its best.
How did the parallel, related practice of composing and performing music as part of this project influence the way it evolved, both verbally and conceptually, for you? Do you think that this interplay created an environment that produced this particular book that would otherwise not have been possible? How and why?
The piece of music I was writing concurrently, Wake/Rise, is about seeing a larger reality, about maintaining that wakefulness as atrophy sets in, as the comforts of privilege become intoxicating, again. It changed the way I wrote the book, absolutely, made me question the book’s value over and over again, and encouraged me to see the book as something that could encourage that awareness of the bigger world, the suffering that defines it. I think music can wake us up, as can writing about it. But it’s complicated, and it requires vigilance and rigor. I’m working towards that.
What does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming influences you and/or colors your work specifically.
One More Revolution invokes spinning records, physically; the double meaning has to do with the vinyl resurgence, how it feels like a kind of flipping or complication of the “digital revolution.” I don’t want to go back in time or set my computer on fire, but I do care very much about physicality, sensation in the place where we happen to be, and the attention and care that a record inspires.
What does this particular volume represent to you
…as indicative of your method/creative practice?
…as indicative of your history?
…as indicative of your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?
As an indicator of my practices and methods, OMR is driven by a fascination with process. What would it mean to rewrite a formal, academic argument like a love poem? History is embedded in that process, of course, a kind of reconciliation with a past voice or set of priorities. And my history is engaged overtly here, as the book could be described as an account of my own listening, from formative experiences long ago, down through the present. As for mission/intention/hopes/plans: I really want to keep writing. Making work like this has been a dream; that it will exist in the world is exciting and intoxicating and I hope there’s something else after this.
What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings of other creative people informed the way you work/write?
We could talk all day about constrictive practices. I like playing drums and keys and singing all at once. That’s enormously liberating from a certain perspective, but from another it is maddeningly limiting and restrictive. There’s something like that going in almost all of my projects, a hand tied behind my back. But there’s also the tension with an environment like the Princeton graduate program and my wonderful teachers and mentors there. “Maybe untie that hand” is something I learned from that program, clarity and courage. Restrictions can be ways to hide, after all.
Talk about the specific headspace of being a musician / composer / performer — when and how do you feel you enter a space of consciousness in which “sound” or “music” is the dominant sense?
In improvisation, which is not something I do publicly but which defines my making, I can get to a body and sound kind of space. I don’t know that sound is ever exclusively the dominant sense for me, though; it’s about the contact with the instrument, or the voice. The physical engagement and the sound together, their interrelationships, are more what I experience at my most dialed in.
Do you feel that you are ever unaware of sound? (How) does your relationship to sound/music inform and/or affect and/or change other parts of your life / day / experience?
Oh I am constantly lost in a purely cerebral place a lot of the time! I think being aware of sound is a good indicator that I am in a state of awareness more generally, that I am actually there. It’s interesting to articulate this, actually. Maybe soundlessness is a signal that I am somewhere other than right there and then.
Describe in more detail the relationship between music and language in your life and practice. How and when are these discrete influences / practices and how/when are they interconnected? How do they influence each other? Do they ever not?
There is a music to language, to speech specifically, its stops and starts, its cadences, so I’m always sensitive to that in making prose or poetry. And I actually track much of my desire to compose back to growing up around spoken Italian. I didn’t understand it entirely, but I was attuned to the contours and colors and intention behind that speech. Sometimes I think those were my first formative experiences with music and language, this barely understanding or almost in reach engagements with people that I loved and admired. Maybe music can be like that: on the verge of communicating but not in ways we can completely sort out.
In terms of your written or text based work, do you “hear” it, speak it out, hear its rhythms, before you write or as you write and/or before you perform? Do you ever memorize your texts / treat them more like a score or sheet music?
I definitely hear the text internally as I am writing, and I most certainly speak it aloud in order to share it with others. I prefer that to handing over a piece of paper or a screen, actually; I think this writing comes alive when it is spoken out. I don’t intentionally memorize things like sections of OMR, though they do get in there after a few readings. But in a music/text hybrid like The Exchange or Wake/Rise, everything is memorized. And it’s not just the content of the language, not just an understanding of what it means in the conventional sense. It’s also how it sits in the voice, in the body.
Talk specifically about how your musicianship/relationship to sound informed and/or influenced this manuscript in particular, whether overtly or less directly.
Again, this piece is absolutely conceived of in my throat and mouth, so to speak. It comes from language as a sonic and physiological phenomenon as much as a way to convey abstract ideas. And in fact, that very idea of sonic meaning versus something more abstract is at the heart of the project.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of creative community in social activism, in particular in what I call “Civil Rights 2.0,” which has remained immediately present all around us in the time leading up to this series’ publication. I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, and sexuality within the community, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos.”
I want to be a part of a community that does this work. For me that has to mean taking stock of my own privilege, and I don’t know that OMR is so successful at making this as overt as it could. I am certainly trying to collapse hierarchies around listening, to champion music that means in ways that unsettle power structures in academia and beyond. But there’s so much work to do. I would like to use the privilege that I enjoy to speak back to the systems that place me in that position in the first place. The problem is that I don’t necessarily have to. I stopped calling my representative recently. I stopped thinking of myself as an activist of any kind. I have that luxury. But I am trying to do better, trying to find ways to help through my work and through just being a body on the line.
What do you hope this book can do in the world?
I’ll be honest, I’m somewhat enamored of my “human chain” idea from earlier. So I’ll come back to it here. The dream is that this book can be a link in that chain of artworks and artists, to encourage or inspire someone to make the next thing that seems strange or counterintuitive or unsupportable by the world as it currently turns.
Is there anything else I should have asked?
Not if you ever want this document back from me!
Except maybe you could have given me an opening to say thank you, for your willingness to say YES to this idea when I first approached the OS. I’m more grateful than I think you know.
Andrea Mazzariello (b. 1978) is a composer, performer, writer, and teacher. He works at the intersections of text and sound, popular and art music, traditional playing technique and one-man-band-inspired performance physiology. His concert music has been performed by leading contemporary music ensembles, including Sō Percussion, Mobius Percussion, NOW Ensemble, and Newspeak, and presented at Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust, and San Francisco’s Center for New Music, among many others. SEAMUS and New Amsterdam Records have released recordings of his electronic and chamber music. Active as a performer, he plays a unique and continually evolving instrumental setup, including keyboard, drum set, voice, and electronics. He has contributed essays to Albany Records, the Baryshnikov Arts Center Stories series, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music blog, and Princeton University Press’ forthcoming The Pocket Instructor: Writing. The Operating System will publish his first book, One More Revolution, in 2017. He completed his Ph.D. in Music Composition at Princeton University, writing on the vinyl resurgence and its connection to our ideas of physicality and abstraction in music analysis, and then joined the faculty of the Princeton Writing Program, where he taught several first-year music-centered writing seminars. Currently he teaches composition, music technology, and music fundamentals as Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Carleton College, directs the composition program at the Sō Percussion
Summer Institute, and runs One More Revolution Records.