Joseph V. Williams II is ACGS’ Composer in Residence for the 2013-2014 season.  Williams sat down yesterday with Grammy winning composer and guitarist Andrew York to talk about his remarkable career, his compositions, and tomorrow night’s concert. 

Joe Williams: You have had a tremendous and rich career as a performer, composer, and collaborator.  How did your relationship with music begin?

Andrew York: Growing up there was a lot of music – and the guitar was always there. My father is a guitar player, my mother sang professionally for a while, and my uncle was a guitar player too. In family gatherings, my father and uncle would always be playing folk music. Before I knew how to play, I would hold the guitar and pretend. Then one day, as the story goes, I was actually playing.  My dad was my first teacher – sharing music was a great father-son bonding experience. He was very patient, and he gave to me his very deep love of music.

Some of my earliest memories are sonic, rather than visual. I remember hearing sounds before I could even talk or analyze them. I remember hearing them with qualities of pitch and timbre…of course I did not think in those terms, but I was very aware of sound, and would listen with great interest even as a small child. I would listen to records over and over. And I heard music then like I hear it now. Nothing has changed, except that I have learned the labels, what to name the intervals, the musical vocabulary. When I listen to music, I am running a real-time harmonic analysis. Its always been like that – and I actually thought everyone was that way – until I went to theory class in high school and realized everyone was not that way!

JW: How did you discover composing?

AY: Composing is a personality trait: the desire to make things or create things.

Composers have a desire to make something new or express something personal. A lot of musicians don’t have that impetus, but for me, the desire to create something new was always there even as a very small child. As soon as I could play, writing was the first thing I did.

JW: Do you remember the first piece you composed?

AY: I don’t know that I remember the first one. Most of that early stuff is gone now, but I do have some old pieces in a collection of loose pages scribbled down on legal paper. I remember there is one that has mustard on the score. I must have been, as a little kid, eating a hot dog and writing – and I got mustard on the paper!

JW: The program for Saturday night features music from your new double album, Yamour (Yamour on itunes). Two of the selections, Glimmerings and Woven Harmony, are multi-movement works.  Can you tell us about these pieces?

AY: Glimmering is a suite that I wrote for a friend’s 60th birthday party. He is a two-time cancer survivor and his wife commissioned me to write it as a surprise.  I was invited to play the piece for a private concert as part of his party. It was very special.

The piece is in lute tuning (the 3rd string is tuned a half step down), with a capo on the second fret – so everything sounds at a higher pitch. I love lute tuning and I like to improvise in that tuning a lot. I wrote this suite with renaissance and jazz influence, not in an overt renaissance or jazz style – just mixing old and new, the way I like to do.  They fit together nicely as an exploration of the tuning and sound.

The other suite, Woven Harmony, was commissioned by Robert Bluestone from Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the time, he and his wife were touring together. In addition to being a musician, she is a weaver, and they wanted a piece that combined the idea of weaving and guitar. That was an interesting challenge, and in the process she taught me how the loom works. So I wrote this piece based on “warp and weft”, the two threads involved in weaving.

The “warp” are the invisible threads. They are the structural ones that you don’t see in a carpet or a wall hanging.  Since they are invisible, I wrote the movements related to warp in a more abstract way: as a type of invisible reality.  Like when you think of particle physics of the quantum world: at first, it may not seem to make sense, but it is deep with order- just not one that’s intuitive to us. Those movements are from a more abstract place.

The weft threads are the threads we see. They hold the form, the color, and the image.  I likened the weft-based movements to our perception of the natural world, our perception of beauty.  So I wrote those in just an honestly beautiful way. I tried to make them without guile – just beautiful. They are simple, meditative, and lovely landscapes.

JW: You’ll also be playing some pieces by J.S. Bach. What will you play and why did you choose this piece?

AY: I’ll be playing four selections from the C minor Cello Suite. The guitar will be tuned down to be at the same pitch level as the cello. It’s a real challenge to play, and it’s a beautiful piece.

I love Bach.  As a composer, you have to worship him. I certainly do. His music is freaky, because it’s so deep yet so beautiful at the same time.  It’s so mathematically perfect, yet dripping with sheer beauty. That’s really hard to do and, in my mind, no one has been able to do it the same way since.

JW: Outside of music what inspires you?

AY: Observing nature inspires me: the infinite juxtaposition of patterns, an algorithmic process in which each moment is a frozen frame of processes, of endless and different lengths. At the moment of observation, you can see order going in both directions in time.

And music is very much like that, because it is an unfolding process. We hear it one frame at a time. As it goes by, we hold in our mind what we have heard and make predictions of what we will hear next. Music may be a way that we learn to understand the natural world.

The greater our ability to be aware of the way the world works, and how music works, the deeper we can delve. And music will go as deep as you want to go. Music is endless. 

I hope you are as excited about tomorrow night’s concert as I am.  Details about the show and the venue are online here.

Here’s a video of Andrew playing “Woven World”, a piece that he will play on tomorrow night’s concert.  Enjoy – and we’ll see you tomorrow night!