I have been working with the composer Annea Lockwood for five years. We collaborated on the solo trumpet work, Becoming Air, for the second edition of my For/With Festival. (A recording came out alongside her work with Yarn/Wire called Into The Vanishing Point on Black Truffle in 2021.) The preparation of that piece is ongoing, and we regularly get together to take part in the process of nurturing its sound together.
During this time, we have also Talked—that capital “T” is intentional. Talking deeply, comparing ideas, chatting, catching up, shooting the breeze: these are points on a spectrum of our working together. And after multiple performances of Becoming Air, we still somehow find a reason to be on the phone together about once a month. The conversations range from the breezy (How was that festival?) to things more difficult (I’m so sorry. That must be so tough.) These are treasured and personal moments, but the joy we take in speaking is not limited to phone calls or in-person lunches. We have been lucky enough to be able to have some of our chats in front of audiences as well: public discussions at Café Oto in London and Chicago’s Frequency Festival and a printed conversation for the most recent volume of John Zorn’s Arcana series.
Annea and I had been talking about a recent performance of her 1974 piece Spirit Catchers on the phone, and it prompted me to dig a little deeper into different eras of her work. During one of our monthly calls, I brought up the idea of another public discussion, this time in Sound American. Annea happily agreed, and we went right back to talking about what we’d been reading lately. And when we met a week later via Zoom for this interview, we started right where we had left off on the phone, doing what we do best: Talking.
• Annea Lockwood: Becoming Air/Into the Vanishing Point (Black Truffle, 2021)
• Annea Lockwood: Thousand Year Dreaming/Floating World (Pogus Productions, 2007)
NWYou did? Had you read it before?
NWHa! Well, that’s actually perfect way for us to start, and I’ll tell you why. I found a CD of Thousand Year Dreaming1 at work and had it on while I was making dinner last night. I was reading some bits that I particularly love from The Living Mountain while waiting for something to boil. There’s this passage where she describes the different ways that snow plays with ice and wind.2 It struck me that what you had made sonically was a perfect representation of that exact scene Shepherd was describing in “floating in mid-air.”
NWYes, and it exemplified the feeling of environment in your work. There are “ecological” composers that consciously aim to recreate an image of nature, but your work has a different, more abstracted but deeper, quality to it, and I want to talk about that. Around the same time, I was rereading this essay by Charles Olson about projective verse. Essentially, he’s proposing a practice where you build a field of all the things that you’re interested in, and then you proceed in the form of an energetic exhale built upon the material you’ve amassed. It’s the human aspect of making the thing that makes it exciting opposed to music having a theme and variations architecture that you’re going to fit your melodies and harmonies into.
NWNo, but I think in listening to Thousand Year Dreaming I found it to have the same projective exhale, so I wondered if we can talk about the process of making that piece.
NWHow did it come together in rehearsal?
NWThat’s interesting because it doesn’t sound fully scored to me, but it also sounds like it could be. It could be exasperatingly scored, or it could just be a series of direction, and the musicians are asked to make good musical choices.
NWIt’s difficult to pull off that balance of improvisation and composition, especially with a massage element!
Listening to you talk about how the piece was made brings me back to the idea of working from a field, whether we choose to use that term or not. It’s like that piece came out of a group of, not coincidences, but moments of action—moments of people coming together, exploring the sketches and possibilities. And even though it was then scored in a way that it could be reproduced by another group of people, it doesn’t feel like it was created merely for that reproducibility. That’s what triggered the connection to Olson and his idea of field. To me, that’s what he’s really talking about: ideas pop up; you follow one; it becomes something new and everything changes; and you follow a new idea. In the end you have a piece.
NWI don’t mean to try and shoehorn what you’re doing into someone else’s idea. It struck me this week because that essay was on my mind, and I thought your music—all that I’ve heard and the piece that we’ve done together—is very much like that. For example, our piece Becoming Air continues to be a field from which we develop that specific music with each performance. And it also got me thinking about how your music tends to develop over longer stretches of time. You told me recently that you’re going back and performing Spirit Catchers again, for example, which reminds me that you have built work that can be revisited without becoming . . . what’s the word I’m looking for . . . repertoire. I’m not sure that’s quite right, but hopefully it makes sense: if you say we’re going to do Spirit Catchers—which is from 1974 if I remember right—that’s a much different feeling to me than playing an Elliott Carter piece from the same year.
NWSo, what do you think the difference is?
NWWhat was behind the decision to start performing Spirit Catchers again?
NWHe’s behind many good decisions. [both laugh]
NWWhat did you learn?
NWI think it’s as close as we get to being naturally poetic. It takes a lot of energy to stay within the rhythmic structure of a poem. They say even within the ancient epics that were spoken, many of the epithets and lines were ubiquitous phrases that the speaker would insert to make the rhythm fall in line. But there is something about that kind of memory-speech you’re talking about that gets one close to a naturally rhythmic poetic flow. Whether that puts you in iambic pentameter doesn’t matter; you’re creating a speed and a rhythm and a flow that has a natural poetry to it.
NWI would love to experience it from the inside as a participant or the outside as an audience member! I’m fascinated by that piece. Did you find that people had a different relationship to objects in 2021 than they did in the 70s when you wrote that piece?
NWIn a way, but I was thinking more about the objects themselves: the spirit catchers. I, for example, have noticed that my attachment to certain objects—books for sure—has gotten deeper than it has been in the past. My experience is not as deep as you’re asking of participants in Spirit Catchers, but I wondered if there was a similar effect in the way that people were viewing the objects they chose for Spirit Catchers now.
NWIt’s a lot to ask, but it’s just something that came to me.
NWI noticed that I’m more attached to certain things in the house. Two years ago, I would take a book with me to read on tour and just leave it at a hotel, or on the seat of a train, for someone else to read. Now, I really hoard books because my experience with them has become such a profound part of daily life.
NWI think we probably all do it to one degree or another. Even if we get rid of those things, we’re engaged in some sort of practice of recognizing them as having an important part of our lives. The choice to get rid of them is still just as heavy.
1Annea Lockwood, Thousand Year Dreaming/floating world, Pogus Productions, 2017.
2“Loose snow blown in the sun looks like the ripples running through corn. Small snow on a furious gale freezes on the sheltered side of stones on a hilltop in long crystals; I have seen these converge slightly as the wind blows round both sides of the stones . . . Or the wind lifts the surface of loose snow but before it has detached it from the rest of the snow, frost has petrified the delicate shavings in flounces of transparent muslin.” Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (p. 33)
3Snyder plays didgeridu and waterphone on the recording.
4Ruth Anderson. A pioneering electronic artist in her own right, Ruth and Annea were partners since the 70s. Annea wrote a beautiful and intimate remembrance for New Music Box in 2019, the year Ruth passed away.