Catherine Lamb : interacting points within expanding harmonic space

Catherine Lamb (b. 1982, Olympia, Wa, U.S.), is a composer exploring the interaction of elemental tonal material and the variations in presence between shades and beings in a room. She has been studying and composing music since a young age.

In 2003 she turned away from the conservatory in an attempt to understand the structures and intonations within Hindustani Classical Music, later finding Mani Kaul in 2006 who was directly connected to Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and whose philosophical approach to sound became important to her.

She studied (experimental) composition at the California Institute of the Arts (2004-2006) under James Tenney and Michael Pisaro, who were both integral influences. It was there also that she began her work into the area of Just Intonation, which became a clear way to investigate the interaction of tones and ever-fluctuating shades, where these interactions in and of them-selves became structural elements in her work.

Since then she has written various ensemble pieces (at times with liminal electronic portions) and continues to go further into elemental territories, through various kinds of research, collaboration, and practice (herself as a violist).

She received her MFA from the Milton Avery School of Fine Arts at Bard College in 2012 and is currently residing in Berlin, Germany.


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

Stravinsky orchestral works were my first memory exposures to structural and intensive listening, chosen from my parents’ record collection at age six and placed on repeat. It could have been different music, but this happened to be my first memory of choosing something specifically from the shelf followed by entrancement. Around this time I choreographed a dance to the Firebird Suite, my first research into composition.

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

I was discussing recently with friends of a similar age to me, regarding the last generation having grown up without internet and mobile computers. We experienced the gradual/steady shift of humans’ relationship to these now everyday technological tools, through our twenties and into our thirties. It seems necessary to mention this, as, on reflection, my most impressionable years involved discoveries away from computers (as I have always been slightly behind technology).

So mine has been a string of happened exposures, finding and searching for resonances through other humans and recordings I have been able to discover. Here is one possible, quite reduced, continuous pathway of personal composer resonances up to now (possible as in tomorrow I might have a different perspective path), where past and future-present do not delineate:

Stravinsky-Debussy-Bach-Satie-A&JColtrane-Monk-Jarrett-Simone-Britten-Ligeti-Webern-Purcell-vonBingen-Ockeghem-Rameau-L.Subramaniam-R.Naryan-K.Amonkar-U.Bhawalkar-Nano S- Riley-Young-Oliveros-Cage-Feldman-Ustvolskaya-R.C.Seeger-Tenney-Radigue-Lucier-Pisaro-Frey-Z.M. Dagar-Steenberge-Wada-So-Grady-Holter-Winter-Szlavnics-Scelsi-Amacher-Eubanks-Darboven-Ablinger-Ullman-Lang-Sabat-Arkbo-Froberger-Torros-Chang-Spiegel-o’Dwyer-Cuni …

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

The long Introduction form; an intuitively unfolding pathway, foraging within an ideal, structured totality. The structure and logistics appear before the foraging, but the movement defines its form.

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 almost always begin my compositional work from an inspired structure, followed by pencil on paper, often drawing through possible perspectives. The interactive tonal space is then initiated, begins to form and to collect the instrumental relationships and timbre together. Technicalities are considered and allowed to postulate in a relaxed manner. When the time is right (without force), the foraging occurs.

In recent years I have occasionally been incorporating digital electronic elements to pieces, and so when necessary I must develop these elements with the computer as well as collaborating with programmers. Looking at strings of code that can create variable and non-lineated arrangements has altered the way I think about timing and structure, or modular parts. This part of the process is different from the one described above and requires more patience.

Until recently, I continued through notated final drafts by my hand, which created a particularly laborious yet beloved process into the completion (which perhaps had felt more complete). In recent years I have begun to enter in more final drafts into computer notation. Although this neutralizes the score, it gives a feeling of invitation to modulate the pieces after initial realizations and to allow for slightly altered instrumentations to be considered, though possibly encroaching on my notational and aesthetic desires, allowing for more flexibility.

Please describe a recent work.

I have been working on a series of pieces entitled Prisma Interius. These pieces are attempting to find a medial between precision and openness, one element I find so inspiring about dhrupad music. Unfolding melodic lines interweave and happen upon the expanded harmonic space in the structural shifting.

The initiation for these pieces has been the ongoing development since 2014 of the secondary rainbow synthesizer with my partner Bryan Eubanks, which is real time subtractive synthesis from a pair of microphones near to the performance taking place, by narrow band pass filters becoming audible frequencies. It expands the listening space and creates a bridge to the outside, while functioning as a basso continuo, shadow, tanpura, highlight to the music.

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