Gleb Kanasevich : composer, experimental musician, and clarinetist

Gleb Kanasevich
Gleb Kanasevich is a clarinetist, composer, and experimental electronic musician. He has appeared as a soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Belarus National Philharmonic, soundSCAPE Ensemble, Atlantic Music Festival Orchestra, Peabody Symphony Orchestra, and more. As a resident artist, Gleb has been featured on the stages of Spoleto Festival USA, soundSCAPE Festival for Contemporary Music (guest artist faculty in 2013/14/15), 50th SCI National Conference, Audeamus International Music Festival in Zagreb, MusicArte Panama, and has been invited as a visiting artist at various educational institutions, like Rice University, University of Oxford, Brandeis University, Peabody Conservatory, and more. His works have been interpreted by Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, Spoleto Festival Orchestra, Lydian String Quartet, Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France, Ensemble Cantata Profana, and many more. He currently works primarily with feedback, noise, and live electronics. Gleb also works as a curator/video maker for the online new music database and audio/video/score resource ScoreFollower/Incipitsify.

Since 2013, Gleb has been a core member of Ensemble Cantata Profana – a group based in New York City and the recipient of the 2016 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. The ensemble has since garnered significant critical acclaim from publications like the New York Times, New Yorker, Boston Globe, and has established a strong foundation in the opera world with its sister project – Heartbeat Opera. He has also joined groups like Nunc Players, Callithumpian Consort, soundSCAPE Faculty Ensemble, Lunar Ensemble, and the Lydian String Quartet for new music residencies, conferences, and festival concerts. Currently in pursuit of a PhD degree in Composition and Theory at Brandeis University in Boston, MA, Gleb holds a Master’s Degree (2013) in clarinet from the Yale School of Music (studied with David Shifrin), and a Bachelor of Music Degree (2011) in clarinet from the Peabody Conservatory of Music (studied with Anthony McGill).


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

It’s hard to remember which memory came first (I think most of my early childhood memories are either music related or nature related), but it was either hearing a recital of contemporary organ music when I was 4 or 5 years old, hearing Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum” record when I was around the same age, or Jean Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene.” All of those experiences were electrifying to me and really inspired me to want to conceive a grand musical event. I think at that age I was really inspired to achieve complete command of some instrument (I wanted to play the organ so much!) and to create multimedia shows; although, I really hope that as an adult I approach virtuosity or other forms of extravagance much more maturely and handle the politics of potentially creating “muscular” music much more responsibly, haha.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?

I think I have never really been just influenced by composers or makers of concert music. My musical childhood has consisted of listening to and playing large quantities of death metal and grindcore, ambient/noise/drone, and electronic/techno. Of course, I played clarinet regularly and composed on the side, so while I was studying music in my preparatory and undergrad, I was really into late Boulez, Grisey, Xenakis, Schnittke, early Philip Glass (like Music with Changing Parts, etc.), and hearing Radulescu for the first time hit me particularly hard. After starting my masters my influences have pretty much shifted to my peers or composers not really more than twenty years my senior, as well as some popular artists that are stylistically all over the map. It’s not the musical content that is inspirational, but the fact that they helped me see something else that I haven’t necessarily considered before. I should note that most of my favorite works are not necessarily by musicians that are most influential to me!

As far as bands and non-concert music composers go, I am continuously inspired by Sunn O))) (a drone/doom band – their presentation and the perpetual diversity of their collaborators is phenomenal), Bridget Feral (a very young electronic/dub artist currently living in Berlin), Lucy (a DJ based in London), Daughters (a noise-punk/grindcore band from Providence), and AукцЫон (a post-punk band from Russia).

How do you approach the question of “form” especially for longer works?

I think this is something that I’m still very much working on, of course, and I hope my approach will continuously evolve. I never felt like hearing longer works were a waste of time, so even though it may seem self-indulgent to some listeners, I really don’t mind when others write pieces that are either program length or feel like a complete “set.” I love experiencing large works, and getting to know the composer over a longer period of time. Of course, writing longer pieces is always a risk and I definitely frequently have difficulty at weaving something cohesive together. Until recently, I felt like I had to rely on training wheels of sorts by writing modular pieces with largely combinatorial material. Everything was somehow related to itself and some parts of the piece would re-contextualize each preceding, current, or successive moment as the piece would evolve. I think in the past couple years, I decided that it was a bit of an old trick and that painting the “nature of things,” in the sense that everything is matter and all things are somehow connected to each other, is not contributing much to the current conversations.

I think particularly in light of the global political events, especially the 2016 election in the US, I feel like I do have to engage with people and somehow try to create something that communicates or evokes empathy in some way. I think I’ve been interested in approaches to producing a piece (in the sense of how you would produce a recording or a show) that makes a piece feel like a communal experience. The performer, the composer, and the audience contribute their perspectives during the live presentation, that converge into a situation that illustrates aspects of our community and how we function day to day. I generally work with very simple large-scale forms, that give me an opportunity to create perceivable and (hopefully) meaningful relationships regardless of how dense the music is on the minute level. Essentially, my approach is now much more concerned with cause-and-effect by means of sonic occupancy and vacancy of the concert space, and reconsidering what “musical material” can mean.

To me, any parameter or any detail of a performance of a piece that undergoes even a single change starts to qualify as material. Once something is changed, it becomes a subject and its change is inadvertently interpreted. When attention is drawn to that element, it gains potential to shape the rest of the piece. To me, material can be absolutely anything, whether it is silence, time, dynamics, etc., as long as it has potential to be altered, and is therefore inextricable from my understanding of form.

In my recent music, I aim to investigate actions and serious consequences, and awareness of one’s body and prejudices. That made me really concerned with how I present the performer, the breadth of their actions, the staging, the production of live sound (now I predominantly work with instruments and electronics), and many more parameters. In each new piece, I now see a situation which binds me to making some inherently political decision. I try to make sure that most of my choices contribute to a statement, so that lack or excess of something are never accidental.

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?

If I can consider my preliminary planning pre-composing, it is definitely not on paper. I work out most of the details concerning the circumstances of the piece for months before I sit down to write or make anything. Those details exist in forms of thoughts and little symbolic drawings that are somehow concerned with the affect or ambience that I want. In the past few years, most pieces have taken me close to a year or longer to realize, and due to my performance schedule I just do not have the luxury of trying out too many things and discarding what I don’t like. I think very sculpturally and poetically, so I really have to work out my systems of signifiers and how they will tentatively contribute to my intended affect very early on.

On a technical level, I do a lot of work in Spear and Max, playing around with spectral analysis and electronic sound synthesis. Recently, I tend to take an approach of either constructing an elaborate processing tool and adapting it to create a piece in a new concert space, or creating a studio version of an electroacoustic piece and then working backwards in Max to create an automated processing tool.

Please describe a recent work.

Subtraction (2016-17)

Subtraction is a large-scale body of work, which focuses on alternative approaches to playing a variety of musical instruments. This version for clarinet is the culmination of a large pedagogical clarinet project in the form of a concert piece, which focuses on approaching the instrument as a tube without holes. Instead of starting with an open G fingering and gradually closing holes to modify pitch, this piece experiments with the inverse approach by gradually opening holes in the body of the instrument to raise pitch. Furthermore, the work aims to eliminate numerous stressors that come with imposition of counter-intuitive motions and learned behaviors in order to produce a culturally conditioned “beautiful” sound, as prescribed to us by centuries of sadomasochistic and egomaniacal concept of instrumental virtuosity. Therefore, the register key is not used, the concept of embouchure is absent, articulation doesn’t really exist in order to eliminate coordination of the tongue and fingers, and key sounds and breaths occur at a natural pace, so that they don’t interrupt the natural flow of the inherent linear narrative of the through line.

In this piece, pretty much nothing has an agenda to impress; however, Subtraction attempts to find a safe place for reflection, meditation, and regeneration. During Part I, the presenter and the audience find a common pulse, by slowly stabilizing the periodicity of breath. It is a process of learning, getting a very basic sense of the world of the piece and its rules. This learning is as relevant to the audience as it is to the performer, in the sense that the clarinetist needs to get a sense of the electronics, their limits, and potential. I see Part II (23:00 and on) as pure liberation. While somewhat awkward in being a more angular progression from one stasis to another than Part I, this part poses physical challenges to the performer and has many more variables. As a result, each performance varies greatly in its narrative and sound world.

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