Louis Goldford is a composer hailing from St. Louis. Recent performances include those by the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Dal Niente, Ensemble Modelo62, the Meitar Ensemble, the NOMOS Group, and Rage Thormbones. Louis was recently named the winner of the 2017 Suzhou (Chou’s) Composition Commission, and this spring will see the premiere of a new piece for Yarn/Wire. He will also take part in the 2018 IRCAM Cursus program for advanced computer music composition in Paris.
His works have been featured at the Northwestern University New Music Conference (NUNC), the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC 2015/2016), June in Buffalo, Contemporary Encounters with Meitar Ensemble (CEME) and with members of Ensemble Modern in Tel Aviv, the Valencia International Performance Academy and Festival (VIPA) in Spain, the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States National Conference (SEAMUS), the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP) at New England Conservatory, the Composit New Music Festival in Italy, and the New York City Electro-Acoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). Louis has also performed as a saxophonist in Taiwan, Poland, and the United States. His work Uncanny Valley (2014) for large orchestra was given Honorable Mentions at the 2017 Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute and the 2015 American Composers Orchestra / Underwood New Music Readings, and in 2014 Louis was the recipient of a Dean’s Prize in Music Composition at Indiana University. Louis completed the Computer Music Workshop (Atelier d’informatique musicale) while studying at the IRCAM Académie and festival ManiFESTE. He was also a finalist in the 2013 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards for his Eric, Rising (2012) for orchestra.
Louis is currently pursuing his D.M.A. in Composition and is a Dean’s Fellow at Columbia University, where he studies with Georg Friedrich Haas.
What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?
Thanks to my mother’s piano playing I heard a smorgasbord of music growing up — Mozart sonatas, Chopin etudes, the Rachmaninoff preludes — this music always seemed to be in the house. I first encountered it passively, before any sort of intentional listening. This passive listening probably had a greater effect on my future music making, even more than my study of these works later on.
I took piano lessons as a kid, but the role of the piano started to change. I started to transcribe sounds around me. At some point, I remember realizing that whatever sound it was I wanted to reproduce would never sound quite right at the piano alone; it needed the low, warm extension of this thing called a bass guitar. I remember improvising freely at the piano. One of those first improvisations stuck with me; the first time I lost myself in a kind of flow.
Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?
Of course there are these influences, but not all of them have been composers or even musicians. In addition to those who have interested me for longer stretches of time, there are countless micro-inspirations from all sorts of people — instrumentalists, sound designers, software developers, philosophers, architects, psychologists — who have collectively shaped my identity as a whole artist. It’s not necessarily my place to weigh them, because that’s where exclusivity in our small community starts. My job is to keep them as fluid and afloat as possible.
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 wish I had a set schedule! I try to let things unfold naturally, but often this is at odds with regular deadlines, so of course this results in bouts of creative energy that end up getting sorted out at weird hours. I do use technology — in pre-composition (audio analysis and computer-assisted composition), notation, design, font creation, media documentation and post-production, and sometimes in performance. Probably the most useful thing I use is git, which helps me organize large project folders of different file types across multiple computers.
In recent years I’ve been taking the time to make involved audio mockups of my pieces in a simple DAW, in order to stay at work in the sound longer, before moving on to other concerns. The process keeps changing, but it changes when my musical needs change. If it didn’t change, or if I didn’t admit that I had changing musical needs requiring concurrent changes of habit in the studio, then it would certainly be a hindrance.
Please describe a recent work.
Mémoire Involontaire (2017) for string quartet, performed by the JACK Quartet
For three years now, my day-to-day thoughts have often been invaded by sharp flashes of formative memory: abrupt visions of my grandparents’ house, where my brothers and I spent time as young kids. Grandma was the last to leave us, and her plight with Alzheimer’s disease is not the first in our family, reminding me that our memories are ultimately all we have.
Mémoire Involontaire takes these sudden and invasive images as its raw materials. Using a variety of audio and speech analysis techniques, sounds and voices recovered from these memories are analyzed, transformed, and reconstructed. Its opening recalls the gusts of wind, rain, and hail beating against our air conditioner one night in New York, its rhythm triggering a first memory of my grandfather drumming and brushing with his hands on a glass table. (He was a drummer before the war.) Steadily this ambient reconstruction transforms into his drumming itself, and the rest follows. If Walter Benjamin was using his own involuntary memories to fend off homesickness, I am working toward a variation on this goal. For Benjamin, all of the excesses of bourgeois life and its utopian dreams are found in the “unconscious of the dreaming collective.” Today we are encouraged to “check our privilege.” Ultimately I hope to purge myself of this excess through self-reflection. We are most certainly entering an era unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. Our memories are precious, and whatever lies ahead, they cannot be taken by force.