Jeremy Wexler (b. 1991) is a composer, percussionist, and teacher from Levittown, New York. His compositional language explores the physics of sound-phenomena, microtonality, and irregular metric and formal organization. Jeremy’s compositions have been heard on Composers Circle, Kinetics Internet Radio from Los Angeles, Incipitsify, the Wintergreen Summer Music Academy in Virginia, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and State University of New York at Purchase College.
In addition to composing, Jeremy is a percussionist for Elijah & the Moon, a rock band based out of Woodstock, NY, at such nationally known venues as Mountain Jam, the National Underground, Bethlehem Musikfest, and Opus 40 (Saugerties). Elijah & the Moon has performed at concerts and festivals with such notable artists as The Allman Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers, to name a few. Recently, Jeremy gave an improvised percussion performance at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in collaboration with installation artist Brian Cook.
Jeremy received his Bachelor of Music degree from SUNY Purchase College, where he is now pursuing a Master of Music degree in composition; he currently instructs composition and musicianship as a graduate assistant. He studied composition under Huang Ruo and Du Yun, conducting with Ransom Wilson, contemporary music practice with Tara H. O’Connor, Dominic Donato, and Calvin Wiersma, and percussion with Ralph Sorrentino, David Nelson, Christopher Hale, and Phil Weiss. Masterclasses with Pauline Oliveros, Jason Eckardt, Alvin Lucier, and Samuel Zyman.
What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?
When I was around four years old I found a pair of drumsticks in my parents’ closet. My dad taught me what they were and how to hold them, and I began playing drums on every surface in our house. When I was six, my parents took me for my first formal drum lessons at a local music store on Long Island (side note: the store was formerly owned by the family of master illusionist Criss Angel, of Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak”). Fortunately, my teacher Phil Weiss strongly emphasized the importance of reading music. By the time I was in third or fourth grade, I would sit at my desk with staff paper and a pencil and scribble out long phrases of drum beats and rhythms. These awesome beats were my first compositions. Even at this young age, it was very clear to me what I should be doing with my career— composing and performing music.
From the time I was six years old until I was 17 years old, the only musical language I could deal with was exclusively rhythmic and had no pitch— I did not learn a thing about pitch or music theory until I was an upperclassman in high school. But I picked up these subjects relatively quickly, and I began composing my first pieces involving pitch as a freshman in college. I learned how to hear the complex overtones that resulted from striking cymbals and drumheads. Even though I didn’t completely understand what I was hearing at the time, I was intuitively able to determine if drums sounded “in tune” or “out of tune.” This was my experience with pitch. As I studied more music and practiced my ear training skills, I learned more about how to analyze what I was hearing. I strongly believe that delaying traditional music theory and classical percussion instruction until my late teens has had a positive and unique impact on my current musical interests.
Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?
Yes, definitely. As a drum set player, my roots revolve around rock, metal, jazz, and pop. But as I got older, I began to seek more experimental music. I became more interested in noise and dissonance. I sought unusual and challenging things. The first composers I became interested in (in no particular order) were Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Palestrina, and John Cage.
After that, I purchased a massive compilation album called “The Early Gurus of Electronic Music” and my favorite pieces were Ussachevsky’s “Wireless Fantasy”, Riley’s “Poppy Nogood”, Xenakis’ “Hibiki-Hana-Ma”, Hassell’s “Before and After Charm”, and Lucier’s “Music on a Long Thin Wire”. I was excited by these new types of sound worlds, and I started trying to emulate these composers through computer music. Over time, I discovered music by composers who are associated with the very things that I was obsessed with as a young pitchless drummer: overtones, complex rhythms, unusual tuning systems, and noise. Some of these composers include James Tenney, Gérard Grisey, Beat Furrer, and Georg Friedrich Haas.
Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process? What other technology, if any, do you use?
I do not have a strict composing schedule that I obey, but I definitely compose something every day. I used to write pieces with pencil and staff paper, but I have since switched to computer notation software. I find that the computer is much quicker and more practical, however sometimes it takes some time to figure out how to trick the software into notating what you want it to notate. Despite primarily composing with a computer, I still strongly advocate going back to paper and pencil once in a while.
Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.
Here is a piece titled Music for Soprano and Ensemble. The instrumentation consists of Soprano, Flute/Alto Flute, Bb Clarinet/Bass Clarinet, Oboe, Trumpet, Trombone, Piano, Violin, ‘Cello, and Contrabass. The text is a poem by Allen Ginsberg – one of my favorite poets. The form of my composition is dictated by the text’s format. The first two-thirds of the poem consist of many short, fragmented stanzas. The lines of text in the last third of the poem are more unified and not broken up into as many stanzas. There is an emotional distinction here that I explore in my music using timbre and allowing time to pass in different ways.