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EXCLUSIVE: Classicalite Q&A with George Fetner

By Logan K. Young l.young@classicalite.com on Aug 23, 2013 01:45 AM EDT

Classicalites, George Fetner needs your help. 

As we told you in this week's Quickies, the composer, administrator, guitarist and all-around good guy is raising funds, via Kickstarter, to put out his debut album of computer-generated compositions--Beneath the Ice.

On vinyl, no less (download code included).

To help get the word out further, Classicalite spoke with Mr. Fetner regarding his campaign, the nature of computer music as well as how he's able to function in all his many, many roles.     

Classicalite: I guess the first question, George, is why Kickstarter? Were you inspired by a particular campaign there, like maybe Jessica Tang's one for Mauricio Kagel's Dressur? I know I was.

George Fetner: Primarily, the reason I chose Kickstarter is that a lot of friends have used it, and I actually like the idea that you have to meet your goal before you can receive the donations. It gives you incentive to push your project and really stand behind your work. I relied mostly on the positive experiences I had in backing other projects, and it was exciting to see so many unique and artistic projects get fully funded.

C: To that end, any comment on the recent trend of celebrities such as Amanda Palmer, Zach Braff, Zosia Mamet or even Spike Lee--that is, those who don't need funding--pleading for fans' cash?

GF: I've thought about this a lot, actually. I wasn't always a fan of Kickstarter since I come from the sweaty, practice room work ethic of getting your job done and saving up your gig money so you can spend it on your next big goal. But some projects are harder to fund with your own money, and in my case, not many people know how enthusiastic I am about composing computer-generated pieces. Trying it this way allows me to gain some exposure and also to be able to make the kind of detailed-oriented and much revised album that this kind of music requires. In the case of Spike Lee, a Kickstarter project for a million bucks is a much different project than what I'm trying to do, and his reputation is an another universe than mine is, so I can't really compare. Perhaps in his case, it's a way for fans and enthusiasts to get a piece of the action, which I think is a good thing. And in every case of Kickstarter projects, the person who is asking for donations can't help but be challenged to make the best possible product that so many people are supporting.

C: People often think of electronic music, especially academic computer music, as this cold, inert genre. But from Milton Babbitt's Philomel to Kaija Saariaho's Noa Noa, there's a rich tradition of real, live human interaction. How do you see/hear Beneath the Ice fitting in. Or is this record, forgiven the pun, "beneath" all that?

GF: One of the reasons I decided to make the record is that the pieces share a common timbral thread, and that while a major component of the pieces is electronic, the human performances keep the pieces organic. I don't do a lot with equations or anything math-based. My computer music is much more visually and aurally-based, which I think you can hear pretty easily. While it's not a primary goal for composing this kind of music, I guess I am trying to keep that tradition alive, hopefully in my own way.

C: Speaking of humans, you've assembled quite the performance personnel for this album. How did the roster come about--getting such fine players?

GF: One of the great things about working at the University of South Carolina is interacting with fantastic performers, professionally and socially. Brad Edwards, for example, approached me about writing a piece for him because he knew I liked improvisation, and he wanted a piece that would let him do that extensively. I knew Mike Harley would be interested in a piece for bassoon and guitar pedals since he is a champion of experimental music. It's really about connecting to the performers and establishing the trust that we'll both give each other something good to work with.

C: Finally, be it your Phish-inspired band Pinna, your more acoustic compositions or this new record of electro-acoustic works, you certainly wear many musical hats. Is there ever a time when it's hard to reconcile such eclecticism?

GF: For years I tried to identify what I wanted to spend most of my musical time on, and I would try to compartmentalize my interests. But I've given up that notion because I like to play lots of different types of music. I'm playing a gig with a blues band tonight, recording for the new electronic album this week, rehearsing for a Pinna show next week and sketching for a new guitar duo piece. (I haven't written a chamber piece for guitar since high school.) While I have the energy to keep up with my interests, I might as well, right? Why fight what you love to do?

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A, George Fetner, Kickstarter, Mauricio Kagel, Amanda Palmer, Zach Braff, Milton Babbitt, Kaija Saariaho, University of South Carolina, Bradley Edwards, Michael Harley, Pinna