In Their Own Words...

 

Members of Wet Ink Discuss the Music of Alex Mincek

As the penultimate offering in this "mini-issue" of Sound American, we offer a few words on the composer by those performers and composers that have shared the most history–and the most philosophical and aesthetic camaraderie–over the years. The Wet Ink Ensemble has been a constant source of support for the experimentation of all the composers involved. During its sixteen years to date, the ensemble has provided an outlet, not just for Mincek, but for other profound and intensely personal composers such as Kate Soper, Eric Wubbels, and Sam Pluta. Their work together has become a laboratory setting for these composers, as well as those outside the group, that can count on the rigor, virtuosity, and flexibility that make up the ensemble's international reputation.

 

For Alex Mincek's Torrent, Sound American editor, Nate Wooley, sat down with three members of the ensemble to ask about the specifics of performing Mincek's music, as well as the effects and benefits of the group's cooperative nature. Short excerpts of the conversations are below, and are reproduced, in full, in the liner notes to Torrent, which will be released to preorder on April 5th.

Ian Antonio

Percussion

SA: To speak in specifics what, as a performer, do you get out of preparing to perform a piece of Alex's? Are there consistent challenges to his music that you don't find elsewhere?

 

IA: Precise execution and adherence to score marking are really important. Alex's music is not complexly notated, nor is it over marked; he means what he writes. A fortissimo dynamic indicates to play very loud and by default encompasses the intense physical effort and complex resultant timbres that come with it. This doesn't mean that Alex's work shouldn't be played musically, but a consistent challenge is to take the notation very literally. That is step one.

SA: Since you met, how have you seen Alex's compositions change in aesthetic and technique? Has your relationship to his music as a performer changed?

 

IA: It's difficult for me to say how Alex's music has changed over the years without the benefit of distance. Because I've played so many of Alex's pieces—a quick tally puts it at around 20—his sonic world has become easier to "step into." Techniques and sounds that once required explanation or deciphering now come quickly and almost by second nature. Along with my Wet Ink colleagues and ensembles that frequently play Alex's music (Yarn/Wire, of which I am also a member, and string quartets like Mivos and JACK, among others), a living and breathing performance practice has developed and continues to evolve.

Josh Modney

Violin

JM: This brings me back to Wet Ink. I've seen everybody grow together over my eight years of involvement with the group. Various idiosyncrasies have seeped into each other's playing, and the composers (Alex, Kate, Sam, Eric) have made a fascinating transformation together. I feel like there were a few years when their music started to have obvious similarities, and then everybody developed their own distinctive, mature style while still retaining the essence of the things that we developed in Wet Ink. The influence of Wet Ink as a whole (performance and composition) on Alex's music can't be quantified, but I have the feeling it is quite significant. (And he is, after all, the founder of the group).

 

My relationship to Alex's music as a performer has changed a bit—but it is mostly a matter of confidence. I equate the challenges of Alex's music to the challenges in Mozart or Haydn—his scores are incredibly clear, to the point that the music is often sight-readable, but performing the music at the highest technical and artistic level is tremendously difficult. Though I now feel very comfortable and facile with the performance practice of Alex's music, I still get a little nervous before each performance. It is music that you really have to be "on" for.

 

SA: Since you met, how have you seen Alex's compositions change in aesthetic and technique? Has your relationship to his music as a performer changed?

 

JM: Yes, I think Alex's music has evolved, though the changes have been subtle. I think that when I met him eight years ago he already had a well-defined identity as an artist. Overall, I feel that Alex's music has been slowly morphing from something clearly akin to his early work with Zs to something that integrates those elements (unison, repetition, clarity) into a more expansive and mature musical style. The most proactive step he's taken is what he casually calls "the softer side of Mincek," which manifested as a bunch of "slow" pieces that came out a year or two ago. This is a reaction against the common perception of his music in the press and public as "brash," "angular," "noisy," etc. This has been a problem with the perception of Wet Ink music in general, one that we find somewhat amusing. To me, the prevailing quality of Alex's music is its beauty: the depth of the timbres and orchestrations, the balance and clarity of form. But anyway, he wrote some "slow, pretty" music to expand his vocabulary, and then integrated what he learned into the music for his Miller Theatre Portrait Concert. I think his premiere on that concert for Yarn/Wire, Images of Duration (In homage to Ellsworth Kelly), is an astoundingly beautiful piece and a remarkable synthesis of his older and newer works.

Eric Wubbels

Piano/Composer

EW: In some pieces, the music can look quite simple on the page, in a way that's very misleading in terms of the level of difficulty. A high level of density and detail in a basically polyphonic context reduces the consequence of any individual detail or event. But in a context that's extremely reduced, sparse, stripped down to the bolts (as some passages in Alex's music can be), the level of difficulty and performative challenge is actually extremely high: every detail is audible, meaning-bearing, consequential. When things aren't together, or don't blend, it's immediately clear, and it also reads very strongly as “wrong,” something that in some aesthetics is almost off the table altogether. So, for better or worse, that's the unusual challenge of Alex's music, but for those of us who love to play it, it's certainly for the better. It's a very rewarding field of play for us to engage with each other and negotiate consensus in various ways, eventually arriving at something that projects a strong and rich image of unity and differentiation held in balance.

SA: Since you met, how have you seen Alex's compositions change in aesthetic and technique? Has your relationship to his music as a performer changed?

 

EW: The main line that I can see over about ten years is one of gradually focusing in—discovering, working out, and refining (to a high level!) a group of musical objects and ideas into a distinctive personal style. Each piece is a balance between objects and ideas that have been thoroughly tested and developed in previous pieces and new, exploratory, or experimental ideas (sounds, objects, forms). In any given piece, if the new ideas work well, they might find their way into the next piece, and so on... As a result, I see a kind of slow evolution and refreshing of the musical language within a style that maintains a strong profile and internal consistency.

 

*Photo of Wet Ink by Alexander Perrelli

 

Alex Mincek: Torrent will be released on April 26th and features members of Wet Ink Ensemble, MIVOS Quartet and Yarn/Wire. Preorders will be available here at Sound American beginning on Wednesday, April 5th!