Narratives & Cycles
An Interview with Megan Kyle
by Colin Tucker
Megan Kyle is an oboist who performs as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral musician throughout the Western New York region. She currently plays second oboe in the Erie Chamber Orchestra, and has recently performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and the New World Symphony in Miami, among others. As a soloist and chamber musician, she performs with the Buffalo-based new music ensemble Wooden Cities, serves as a performer and operations director for Null Point, and is a founding member of several chamber music projects in Buffalo, including the oboe/cello duo Parvenue and the voice/oboe duo Senso di Voce. She teaches oboe and English horn at Houghton College, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY at Buffalo and performs as a member of the Geneseo Wind Quintet.
Megan is also a violinist, and performed on violin for the instrumental sections of PLACE.
I. Music and its Outdoor Others
CT: What was the most challenging dimension of realizing this piece? The most unexpected?
MK: This may seem silly, but to be honest I think the most challenging and unexpected aspect was dealing with bugs landing on me or circling around me, particularly while performing section 9. That was the section where I was intent on an activity that occupied both my hands, and I was trying to sustain extremely long sounds that required a great deal of concentration. If a bug was really bothering me, I’d try to stealthily fade out and deal with it and fade back in, but many times I’d accidentally pluck a string, or knock the body of my violin with my bow, or make some other short, loud, percussive sound while trying to get the bug off me. If I let the bug do its thing and didn’t try to swat it away, I was still distracted. This is something that I absolutely didn’t anticipate about the project. I’m not sure how David Dunn would feel about my approach, or lack of approach. The fauna of a place are an intrinsic aspect of that place, and certainly the actions of the place on the performer should be considered part of the piece. While I considered my distraction a problem, maybe it should be considered neutral.
Megan Kyle (L) in Null Point’s realization of PLACE part 9 at Artpark (July 16, 2017). Photo by Megan Metté.
CT: What part of your performing mind and/or body had to be most radically rewired?
MK: The part of my performing mind/body that had to be most radically rewired was the desire for narrative. While it’s possible to find a narrative arc in the piece as a whole (in terms of the relationships among the ten sections), most of the individual sections were designed to resist the natural human impulse to create narrative—in the simplest sense, the impulse to assign meaning to change over time. Yes, there were the slow changes that happen in an environment over the course of a day, or quick changes as animals or vehicles moved through or near the space, but it seemed important that I as a performer reacted to these changes at face value and didn’t try to artificially heighten their meaning. In Part 2, for instance, at moments where a loud ambient noise drew all of us towards it, it could be tempting to make that into a significant narrative moment. But that would mean I would no longer be solely listening to my environment, but rather listening through the filter of what I wanted to hear. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to completely obliterate that urge, and I think this is part of what makes the piece inevitably a two-way conversation between performers and environment. But I believe that the struggle is important to embrace, and the result is a more compelling performance.
II. Inhabiting Duration
CT: What was your experience of the piece’s duration?
MK: The duration of the piece was integral to its effect. It felt like a building we were living in for an entire day—engulfing us, arching over our heads. I think it’s inseparable from any other aspect of the piece, because seven hours passing traverses seven hours of changes in your own body as well as seven hours of changes in the environment. If the piece is, in its most distilled form, about the relationship between the environment and the human body (in the sense that musical performance is intrinsic to the human body), the span of time through which it happens is key. As the day passes, there are changes in light, in temperature, in weather maybe, in the behavior of flora and fauna, including human activities, and within your own body there are changes in energy, in hunger, in mental state, etc. It feels like you couldn’t have a piece about engaging with one’s environment unless it was at least this long in duration.
So, my experience was that my experience was always changing. Sometimes I was excited, sometimes I was bored, sometimes I was hungry, sometimes I had to use the bathroom, sometimes I wanted to take a nap, sometimes I was focused intensely on the task, sometimes the focus relaxed into a wandering meditation. I felt that the cycles in my own body were reflecting, or at least in dialogue with, the cycles in the environment around me.
III. Euphoria and Guilt in Part 10
CT: Could you discuss your experience rehearsing and performing Part 10?
MK: Part 10 is very interesting to me because it’s the only section in which listening isn’t explicitly built into the structures. And there’s a violence to it—the performers are physically acting on the environment in a way that is distinct from the sonic actions taken in earlier sections. Those sonic actions may be seen as a kind of violence as well, but they are based on listening, whereas in Part 10 the actions are based on physical opportunities.
I can’t decide how it fits into the arc of the piece as a whole. Is it the part where the performers finally rebel against the quiet tyranny of their environment, which has been holding them in its thrall for 6 hours? Is it the part where the performers complete their colonization of the environment, after poking and prodding it all day with various implements? Is it neither? Do I need to stop looking for a narrative altogether?
Megan Kyle in Null Point’s realization of PLACE part 10 at Artpark (July 17, 2017). Photos by Megan Metté.
CT: What was it like to try the specified actions at first? How did your sense of your instrument change over the course of rehearsing and performing Part 10?
MK: In the first performance, I used my own violin for Part 10, and therefore needed to find actions that wouldn’t cause damage to my instrument. That constraint was an interesting one, and it was exciting to discover how wide the range of sounds that fit within it actually was. It was also an interesting filter to look at the world through—seeing my environment in terms of the possible interactions I could create between it and my violin without causing damage, and seeing my violin in terms of same criteria.
In the second performance, by contrast, I used a very cheap violin that I had been given the okay to destroy. My main action in the second performance was to climb down and run quickly up a rocky hill with the violin tied to my waist by a long rope. The physical action of running as fast as possible over somewhat treacherous terrain, while a thunderstorm approached no less, was certainly euphoria-inducing, and it was a lot of fun. At the time I didn’t feel much trepidation about damaging the instrument, maybe because the concept had been brewing in my mind throughout rehearsals and because I had seen the other performers’ actions in the first performance. But after it was over I had a vague feeling of low-grade guilt. The violin was reduced to splintered fragments, and the scroll and spiky pieces of fingerboard that remained connected were strung together with a few unraveling strings. It looked disconcertingly like a partially disintegrated spine. I think the feeling must be a shadow of what I would feel if I hurt an animal that was in my care. I knew I had permission to destroy the instrument, and the collective energy of Part 10 was thrilling, but in the back of my mind was this faint sense that I had betrayed the violin. It was, after all, an act of destruction, and there was one less violin in the world when I had finished.