Roger Reynolds: The Benefits of Being Outside the Loops

Roger Reynolds: The Benefits of Being Outside the Loops

Although Roger Reynolds has been based in California for the last 40 years, his Midwest upbringing and formative experiences in both Europe and Asia have given him a world view that knows no boundaries. Read the interview…

Written By

Frank J. Oteri

Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine,, since its founding in 1999.

Roger Reynolds in Conversation with Frank J. Oteri at the home of Matthias Kriesberg
May 13, 2009 — 4 p.m.
Transcribed and edited by Frank J. Oteri and John Lydon
Videotaped by Trevor Hunter and John McGill
Video presentation by Molly Sheridan

The year 2009 has been bookended by major music festivals celebrating the eclecticism of composers based in California. In January, the Juilliard School mounted a week-long festival devoted to 100 years of music from our most populous state. And we’re currently in the midst of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s West Coast, Left Coast, an unprecedented three-week celebration that offers an extremely broad range of Californian music-making. So for our final cover of 2009, we’re featuring a composer who has been based in San Diego for over 40 years, Roger Reynolds.

But although he is nominally a West Coaster, Reynolds’s Midwest upbringing and formative experiences in both Europe and Asia have given him a world view that knows no boundaries. While his music incorporates ideas from many of the stylistic paradigms that have defined the music of last half century—serialism, conceptualism, and even neo-romanticism—it is somehow not beholden to any of them. When Roger Reynolds was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twenty years ago for his string orchestra composition Whispers Out of Time, Kyle Gann quipped that it was the first time this honor had been bestowed on a composer from the experimental tradition since Charles Ives was so honored in 1947. And while experimental is perhaps the best word that can be used to describe Reynolds’s overall approach to composition, it is only part of the picture.

For an experimentalist, Reynolds can come across as downright practical:

[M]ost pieces get about six hours of attention from the musicians who are going to premiere them. I don’t remember exactly when this hit me, but I realized one day as a composer I can decide how my six hours are going to be used. I can decide that they’re going to be used figuring out what the notation means, on learning how to communicate with each other, etc., or it can be used in playing music and in being musical. You don’t have both things in most situations. The music which has been heard for a long time and the musicians who write now in a way that is resonant with those traditional ways have an incomparable advantage over people who don’t write that way because it’s “in the ear” of the performers.

That said, most of Roger Reynolds’s music sounds nothing like music which has been heard for a long time. From his early works for the legendary ONCE festival to elaborate multimedia works and pioneering electroacoustic manipulations of performative information, Roger Reynolds is constantly redefining what music can be and how it can be used. Even when he is tackling tradition-bound genres such as the song cycle, the string quartet, or the symphony, Reynolds is inevitably pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In fact, many of the works he has created extend well beyond music and are nearly impossible to convey on sound recordings, although over the years there have been some remarkable documentations attempted on Neuma, New World, and most significantly Mode which issued the very first Classical DVD custom-designed for 5.1 Surround-Sound featuring some of Reynolds’s otherwise undocumentable creations. But no matter how far out his music is, he’s completely down to earth about it:

I’ve done a lot of pieces that others have told me may count as “projects,” so I started naming a lot of works “projects,” because if that’s what they are, then let’s call them that.

Roger Reynolds’s unique combination of pragmatism and inquisitiveness extends well beyond his own creative work. Over the course of two hours, we talked about a wide variety of topics spanning poetry, teaching and being taught, technology, societal rewards, and even the military, although it inevitably always came back to music. It was a heavy conversation—I’m still processing it more than six months later—and it is by no means a quick or easy read. But Reynolds’s highly individual take on the world around him should be required reading for anyone interested in the state of contemporary music today and where it might be going.


Frank J. Oteri: You’re a difficult person to pigeonhole. Somehow you seemed to have escaped all the “ism” wars that everyone else in your generation was fighting over so passionately. Your music incorporates ideas from a lot of stylistic proclivities, but it is somehow not beholden to any of them.

Roger Reynolds: I think that’s very true and it’s very deliberate. I had an unusual background. I came to music much later than most of my peers. I heard Horowitz on recordings when I was 14, and it opened a door. I hadn’t realized that room was there. It was a very galvanizing moment even though there were a lot of detours along the way; I didn’t start actually composing until I was 25. I had been at the University of Michigan for nine years. I went through an engineering physics degree and then through an undergraduate and master’s degree in music, and my mentor at that point, Ross Finney, said, “What do you think about the Ph.D.?” And I said, “No way! I’ve been here long enough.” And he said, “I understand.” The idea was to get out and to have the time to do the kind of growing that I thought I needed to do, because I had composed very few pieces by the time I had graduated from the University of Michigan. So at that time, although it seems odd now, going to Europe was a way of living cheaply. I lived in Europe for almost three years on nothing and with nothing, and that time was spent trying to find myself and my voice. It was very clear that there were dangers in becoming part of any clique. I knew Cage. I knew Babbitt. I knew various people as a student before I left the country. But I didn’t want to be part of any particularly defined group. You pay a price for that, of course. If you are not easily categorized, you tend to be—by definition—marginalized. You can’t be in the middle if you don’t belong to anything.

I was out of the country for seven years. [My wife] Karen [Reynolds] and I were living in Japan at the time, and we had a child. And we realized that many of the expatriate children looked like hothouse plants. They were pale and thin and seemingly lifeless, and we didn’t want our daughter to grow up that way. So we decided to come back to this country. We thought that the most dynamic social scene at that point—this was the late ’60s—was California, and so that’s where we went. But there was not much in San Diego at that time. It was primarily a Navy town. There was a fledgling unit of the University of California, but it was only four or five years old and it had no profile yet. But it was an open playing field, so the possibility of doing things was very great.

FJO: It’s interesting that you said that you were attracted to California’s social scene, but you went to a part of California that didn’t really have a scene at that point.

RR: Most of the dynamic music scene at that point was happening in the Bay Area. But by the time I went there, Partch was in San Diego. That wasn’t a reason to go there, but it was certainly an attraction after we got there. When I was at the University of Michigan, I was the editor of the arts magazine there, and Tom Hayden was the editor of the Michigan Daily at the same time, and Carl Oglesby was my drama editor. So I knew these guys. And here we are living in Japan seven years after I’d been in Ann Arbor and I see them on TV literally leading marches and having a very dynamic relationship to social issues. Of course, there was also a lot of that going on in Japan at the same time. So maybe it was less that so much was going on in California as that California represented a kind of horizon that had more malleability, more flexibility, and more potential.

FJO: To backtrack a bit, there seems to be quite a leap from hearing Horowitz to having Ross Finney as a mentor at the University of Michigan, and then to being in Europe and Japan. You also had a military career.

RR: Briefly. I was a military policeman, of all things. I had graduated with an engineering and physics degree from the University of Michigan and I wasn’t drafted into the Regular Army, but I had a two year obligation as a reservist. I think that the Army was particularly perverse at that point. Knowing that I was an engineer, I presumed I would have been an Army engineer. But in fact my MSOs [military service obligations] were either light-truck driver or military policeman. So I chose military policeman, and I learned how to disable people and how to be extraordinarily brutal. It was a rather weird experience.

FJO: That’s a very different world from being a composer, for the most part.

RR: I should say! It didn’t come in handy.

FJO: But one of the things you did once you got involved with music at the University of Michigan was to co-found ONCE, a festival of extreme historic significance, with Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma. I’m curious about how that came about, especially since you said you hadn’t composed much music at that point.

RR: Well, I think the primary force in the beginning was Bob and Mary Ashley. Bob had been studying at the University of Michigan with Ross Finney. [George] Crumb was there at the same time. [Ashley] had been at the Manhattan School of Music; he was a pianist at that time. He was very intense and very rebellious in some regards. Mumma had been at Michigan but had dropped out and was working in some kind of research dealing with seismographic measurement and so on. The two of them had become involved with an art professor named Milton Cohen, who had what he called a Space Theatre where he had taken canvas and stretched it to make a circular, tent-like situation and then in the middle there were projectors and mirrors which flashed imagery on the screens. And Bob and Gordon had been involved in making electronic music in relation to Cohen’s stuff. I think that they realized that if they started a festival, they were going to need resources. They were going to need instruments and performers. And since neither of them had a particularly robust relationship with the university, I think that I came into the picture partly in that way. Of course, I got to know them. I went to Milton’s productions, and so on. Also around that time I met Cage in New York. And so I knew him before they did and I arranged for Cage and Cunningham to come to Ann Arbor High School, which I think is the first time they had been in Ann Arbor.

So there was a confluence of capacity, differential abilities, and common interest. And the common interest was fueled by the fact that—I don’t remember what year it might have been, maybe 1960—there was a UNESCO conference on composition in Stratford in Ontario, Canada, and Varèse was going to be there and so was Berio and a number of other major figures. So we all got in a car and decided we were going to meet all these people, but when we got there we realized that they were insulated from mere commoners like us and it wasn’t really possible to meet them. I don’t think we met any of them except Berio, and that was accidental. So on the way back we basically said: We can do better than that. If there are going to be music festivals, there ought to be festivals that represent less well-known composers, they ought to be open to the public, there ought to be the possibility of exchanging views and taking the heat, and all the rest of that. And that’s where the ONCE festival came from. We needed something to happen and if nobody else was going to do it we’d do it ourselves.

FJO: Interestingly the other two composers also studied with Finney, but they had a very different experience from yours.

RR: Ross was a very dynamic and forceful personality. He was unremitting. He said exactly what he thought, always good-humoredly, as far as I’m aware. He was never angry or nasty, but he just said what he thought. And I remember at either the first or second ONCE Festival, I had a duo for violin and cello played called Continuum. I can see him in my mind’s eye at that moment. He came blustering up with his pipe sticking out and his face very rosy and said, “Congratulations Reynolds, that piece never got off the ground!” That was the way he was. He hit you straight. And I think that was very hard for a lot of people. The first course I took from Finney was called “Composition for Non-Composers” and it was a course in which he tried to explain what it was to be a composer. And it was extremely seductive. It was extraordinary. He began the whole thing with a staff on the classroom wall; he drew a circle in the third space of a five-line staff and asked what that sounded like. And then we started exploring the whole question of notation. What’s the pitch? Depends on the clef. What’s the duration? Depends on the tempo. What’s the sound? Depends on the instrument. Etc. So he was an extremely basic sort of teacher and that’s why he could deal with me, Ashley, Mumma, and Crumb all at the same time. No problem, because what he talked about was in a certain sense more fundamental than style. But he was really, really tough, and it was not easy for people to deal with him.

FJO: It’s interesting that Ashley and Mumma were already involved with electronic music at this early stage but you had come to want to be a composer after hearing Horowitz. So what tipped you toward a more avant-garde direction?

RR: It was actually very simple and just circumstantial. I had studied engineering. Engineering is about making things work in the real world. So I went to California and I became a systems development engineer at the Marcourt Ramjet Corporation in Van Nuys. I realized after a few months that I was practicing the piano at night in the local Unitarian church more hours than I was at work; I thought that this made no sense so I went back to school. I had planned to become a small liberal arts college piano teacher. I had started too late to really have any kind of career as a performer, I thought. But I promised myself that if I was going to re-educate myself, I was going to commit to practicing six hours a day, seven days a week, continuously. That was just going to be necessary, whether I was sick, whatever. And I did that. After a few years walking down the halls I heard all this music that was from remote times and remote societies, and so I thought, “What’s happening now?” I didn’t know anything about that. So I took Finney’s course because of that interest.

At the end of this course, we had to write a small piece. I wrote a string trio as I remember it. And he just destroyed it. Everything was wrong. So I was slinking out of the classroom afterwards and he pulled me aside and said, “What are you doing this summer?” And I said that I was here because I had to go the year round because I had lost so much time with engineering. And he said, “Why don’t you work with me this summer?” That was very surprising given what he had just done to my piece, my poor little trio. We worked all summer and every week he destroyed everything I brought in. One point, sometime around the end of August, I said to myself that if he doesn’t like what I have this time then it’s over. And at that moment he said, “Now here we really have something.” Now whether he intuited that I was close to the breaking point, I don’t know. I remember we were walking out afterwards and he looked at me and said, “You’re hooked, aren’t you?” And I said “Yes.” Ross gave me a lot of special attention. We had this Midwest Composers Symposium and he did three of my pieces on one of these student festivals, which was unheard of. He was very kind and very generous.

FJO: So what was the first piece that he liked?

RR: I don’t remember. I think it was a string quartet movement.

FJO: Do any of those pieces survive? Do you acknowledge any of them?

RR: That’s another odd story. While I was at Michigan, I wrote a number of fairly small-scale pieces and at a certain point—I don’t remember whether it was Ross or Babbitt or Cage—somebody said, you should send these to [C.F.] Peters. And so I sent everything I had. I was basically living with Karen at that point; she was a flutist at Michigan. I got a call on a Sunday afternoon from Walter Hinrichson [of C.F. Peters] and he said, “Evelyn [Hinrichson] and I are working on an edition of these pieces you sent.” But they had never said that they were going to publish anything. I was of course very excited, but on the other hand a little stupefied. And I didn’t have the sense to say, “Wait a minute! Let me think about this a little.” You’re offered something like that and it’s already a fait accompli so far as they’re concerned; they’re working on the layout. So I let it go ahead. It was a big mistake. Those early pieces didn’t belong in the public sphere. And it’s actually a disquieting feeling at this point to know that they’re in lots of libraries everywhere, even in Europe. They shouldn’t be. The one piece that I do still think is significant from that period is the short piano piece called Epigram and Evolution. Ashley premiered that. The year after, Paul Jacobs played it, also at ONCE. And in fact Mode [Records] is releasing a 2 CD set of my complete piano music and it will be on that.

When the ONCE Festival album was proposed by New World [Records], we had to go back and listen to all the music that they were talking about releasing. And I realized in a very alarming way that while I thought this music has to be—to put it mildly—inexpert, because I was just starting, I still could hear very clearly that it was me. I don’t know exactly why that’s true, but that music is me; my sensibility is there. And that one piece somehow still seems O.K. from my perspective now.

FJO: Interesting, because I definitely hear you perhaps even more so in A Portrait of Vanzetti from those ONCE recordings.

RR: Oh yeah. That was a very important piece for me. I did the electronic part of that at the West German radio studio; that was another strange experience. I went to Cologne on a Fulbright. I was supposed to study with [Bernd Alois] Zimmermann. I went to his class. And afterwards he took me to coffee and he said, “Look, there’s no point for you to be in this class.” He didn’t say why but he said, “Just do what you want, come back and see me at the end, and I’ll sign off.” So I actually never met with him, never had a lesson with him, never even had a conversation with him. Instead of that I met Michael von Biel, who was living in Mary Bauermeister’s atelier—and Bauermeister was Stockhausen’s “friend” at that point. Cardew was there. Kagel was there. Globokar was there. A lot of very remarkable people were in Cologne at that time. And so it was a very dynamic and maybe partially disorienting experience.

FJO: Using that Vanzetti piece as an early example of a breakthrough point to your subsequent work, I hear in that piece the desire to somehow want to go beyond, whether it’s going beyond what notation can do, or going beyond what a player can do, and even going beyond what music can do in terms of how it is received and perceived by listeners—the incorporation of electronics, visual elements, text elements, extended notations and extended techniques. A Portrait of Vanzetti seems to be the earliest piece of yours that does those things. But I also wonder, since it’s now finally available so many years later on this New World recording, how you feel about it existing exclusively as pure sound, since there were so many other elements to it in live performance. A later work of yours, Ping, also exists in a tangible form only as sound on an LP recording that was re-issued many years later on CD, but it too has all these extramusical components in your original conception.

RR: Vanzetti is the first piece that is another me. From the very beginning, and that tendency still continues to some degree, I separated music that I thought flowed along with music from things that I thought of as experiments or laboratory activities, for example the Voicespace series. Another musician who was at Ann Arbor at the same time as Finney was a composer named George Wilson. I remember George in one of our classes at some point attacking one or more of the other graduate composers at Michigan for involving themselves with political issues when, as he put it, they had not suffered anything. And that was a very dynamic and galvanizing moment because every young composer thinks about motivation, meaning “Why am I doing this?”, “What is it for?” I have shied away from overly political things during my career as a composer, and I do that primarily not because I am uninterested or unmoved by them but because I don’t think I’m an appropriate commentator. That is to say I have no expertise. I don’t really know what’s at issue because I don’t have time to immerse myself in those things. But in regard to Sacco and Vanzetti, I don’t remember how I came across them. But when I read Vanzetti’s letters, there was something that really came through, a lyricism and humanitarian sensibility that was very touching. At that time Jack O’Brien was in the theater program at Michigan. I met him through Bob James who had played the piano with Karen on my flute and piano piece. And he agreed to narrate. You may or may not know that he is now a major director and producer and he runs the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. We both have been there four decades and we’ve never met since Ann Arbor. It’s a strange situation. But that piece also was very much a product of my fascination with Donald Scavarda’s piece Sounds for Eleven, and Scavarda conducted the first and, in fact, only performance of Vanzetti. It’s going to be done when the University of Michigan does the new ONCE Festival (ONCE. MORE.) in Ann Arbor, in the fall of 2010; that’s the piece that I’ve chosen to have done because I’d like to get into it again. We’ll all be there: Bob, Gordon, Don.

FJO: I wonder what your thoughts are on people experiencing only the sonic components of pieces like Vanzetti and Ping, considering that your original conception of them included many additional elements that do not translate on an audio recording. How important are those other elements?

RR: I would never do anything knowingly in any work that wasn’t essential. But you have to face the fact that at the time that that recording [of Ping] came out [in the early 1970s], there was no possibility of releasing a film or a DVD or videotape; that wasn’t available yet. So it was a question of having it not represented or representing it partially. In terms of “going beyond,” music was a vast and uninhibited horizon. I did not have the experience that the majority of composers I know have of improvising as a child and learning the repertoire. So I didn’t really think of Ping or Vanzetti as being outside of anything because it was all a part of the way I responded to using sound for aesthetic purposes. And I had always been intrigued by visual art—I’m very much involved with it—and literature, text. So it was very natural to use all of those things. But I think I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with film had I not developed a relationship with Takemitsu, because I actually had one of Kurosawa’s cameramen to work with and the actor/dancer who was the figure in the box in the film that I made was Sekiji Maro, one of the great Butoh dancers. There’s actually a funny anecdote about that. We filmed for two days and he had to be covered in white powder to look the way I wanted him to. When we met in the morning I said to him that I was worried about him sweating. And he said, “No, I won’t sweat.” And I said, “And blinking too.” “I will not blink.” And he did not blink, and he did not sweat. At the end of six or seven hours, as soon as the light went off, sweat. He was…he is (I think he’s still alive) something phenomenal.

FJO: Wow! To jump now many decades, there are pieces that you’ve created since we have a whole array of new technologies. And your multichannel music was the first to be recorded on DVD. And, as a listener, I know that I would have gotten so much more out of a piece like, say, Odyssey, had I been able to experience all the other aspects of it that you can’t get from just hearing an audio recording. By only listening to it, I felt I was really missing something.

RR: Oh, you were. Not only in terms of staging and so on, but in terms of the six channel structure, because the idea in Odyssey was to have a confluence of two views from the same author, of the same set of ideas: Beckett in French and in English. And I found two multilingual translators. So there was a female voice and a male voice, and both of them read in both languages, and then these languages were put in stereo fields moving in front of the audience. If you had heard it live, it is actually a completely different experience. You really do feel these voices moving in front of you. And then there are other things happening from the ensemble as well as electro-acoustic elements. From the beginning, I’ve done a lot of extremely impractical things—and living in San Diego may have been one of those—but there are benefits, too, of being outside the loops.

FJO: But maybe a piece like that could be effectively captured on a recording that was released on DVD with 5.1 surround sound.

RR: Sure.

FJO: Would that be something you’d want to pursue?

RR: Certainly. After a certain point in life you realize that you could spend all of your time curating and managing what you’ve already done. This is not what I want to do with my life. I want to continue to make things. So it’s always a little tricky to think about improving on the record, as it were, and to go back and pay some serious attention to Ping, which I’m doing this next summer, or to Vanzetti, where I’ll have to re-create the electro-acoustic part. I don’t do that easily because it means I won’t be doing the next thing I’m interested in at that moment. It’s clear from the outside that it would be very nice to be able to capture some of these things that are more dimensional than the current documentation shows. I don’t know whether that will happen or not.

FJO: These multidimensional works also bring to mind the whole question of collaboration as fodder for inspiration. You’ve done incidental music for theatrical productions. There’s a very nice disc that New World put out featuring your music for Ivanov, which I found very exciting. But once again, the CD only has the music, so it’s hard to get an idea of how this worked within the context of the original performance.

RR: Actually there is a video of the Tadashi Suzuki production, which is pretty amazing. The things he did with that music will blow your mind. What he asked me to do was to provide him with “primitive music” and “religious music,” and he wanted me to select one from a number of pop tunes he would send me and that couldn’t appear on the CD, because we couldn’t get through the maze of permissions that would have been necessary to use it. We negotiated a lot and I said, “O.K., I’ll do two kinds of music for you. There are the set pieces, each of which will be four minutes long, and if you use them you must use everything exactly as it is. And then I’ll do a couple of continuities, and you can do anything you want with them—you can cut them up, run them backwards, whatever.”

We first encountered each other when I was in Japan in the ’60s and he was a student at Waseda University. He had a group, the Waseda Shogekijo, and later he formed his own theater company. He asked me at one point if I wanted to collaborate with him and I said of course I’d love to. So he said, “Send me sound postcards over the next year. When you think of a particularly interesting fragment of a piece, just send it to me.” Then, after a year, we met in Japan, and the first thing he said was, “There’s no room for me.” I didn’t know exactly what he meant by that, but then he explained that the music takes up all the attention that there is and that there’s no place for actors and lighting. So I said, “I get what you’re saying, and I will try to make some music that leaves room for you.” That was an interesting challenge.

FJO: And yet what you wound up composing still works as a pure sonic experience.

RR: Wait till you see what he did with it!

FJO: The question of collaboration and influence also comes into play with the musicians you’ve worked with extensively over the years. There are certain people who crop up again and again, like Harvey Sollberger and Steve Schick, who are both UCSD people.

RR: Phil Larson’s another important one.

FJO: Aleck Karis, too, and obviously your wife, Karen. I would suggest that this not only affects, obviously, the instruments you choose to write for, but also possibly the kinds of things you wind up writing for them, or at least the kind of compositional directions you get pulled in.

RR: It’s an interesting question. When Karen and I were living in Japan, we ran a series called CROSSTALK. We did a big festival in 1969 in Tangei’s Olympic Gymnasium and one of the composers I wanted to feature on that series was Sal Martirano, who was at the University of Illinois then. He’d written a lot of music for particular performers. And I came to understand after a while that he did not believe that anyone else could perform that music. It was the property, in a sense, of the people for whom he had written it. But I didn’t think that was true. And when we in fact did all this music in Japan with American servicemen and Japanese musicians he loved it and thought it was fine. I think that what a relationship with a performer does is ease the way into one’s understanding or one’s picture of what the instrument is about. But I don’t really think that it’s the performer who actually creates the spur for the writing. I have enormous respect for all the people you mentioned, and others. I have worked with them closely and I’ve valued that interaction enormously, especially—collaboratively—the idea of being able to hear something with the option to change it. The feedback process is so important and is very rare in my experience. Most performers don’t want to get fully involved until the piece exists as a final document. As a result, it’s very hard to try something out, which is the most valuable of all, because I already know what my own imagination is going to produce. What I don’t know is exactly how that imagined sound is going to intersect with the physics of the instrument in the moment of real performance. So I don’t really think that the performers make the music. I think they make the opportunity to engage with the medium.

FJO: But what’s interesting is that in some of the pieces you write, there will always be a piece of the original performer. I’m thinking specifically of the Transfigured Wind pieces that combine live and prerecorded flute sounds, and those prerecorded flute sounds were performed by Harvey Sollberger. So he’s always there.

RR: This is something that I realized at IRCAM in 1981. It suddenly dawned on me that there were two kinds of information in music. There were the relational structures that the composer imagines and creates. And then there was the performative information that the performer gives in realizing the implication of those relationships. Performative information is a resource, and quite a few of the pieces that I’ve done that involve computer have involved the idea of writing some basic thematic material and then working with a performer in a very detailed and demanding way to get them to realize it. Of course this is hard for them because the piece doesn’t yet exist, so they don’t know where it’s going; all they know is that small maybe minute or two.

As you say, Harvey will always be in Transfigured Wind, and there are many other pieces I’ve written in which the person who recorded it provided an essential aspect of the sonic material of the piece, both in the sense of the immediate realization of my ideas and telling me something about what the music means, because of course a composer doesn’t ever really know exactly what the music means until you hear it. But it also becomes sonic material which in a computer piece you can use.

FJO: And of course the other possible collaborative aspect in any piece of music that is derived from the use of computers involves the people who designed the programs or the hardware that was used to generate the piece. How important have those people been to the process? Have you also worked with the same people over the years for those aspects of a composition?

RR: Probably not, in fact. The first person that I worked with technologically was a guy in Japan—who was working with Takemitsu at the time when I arrived—named Junosuke Okuyama. He was an engineer and he built boxes and would say, “What do you want to happen?” And then he would build a box that would do that. It was extraordinary. Later when I went to Stanford to start working in computers at the end of the ’70s, I worked with a lot of different people there who were around the lab, because this was at a time when the so-called time-sharing machines meant that everyone in the building heard what everyone else was doing and everyone was involved with everyone else. So if something wasn’t working you just asked the person sitting next to you and you’d work it out together.

When I went to IRCAM, however, there was this concept of the Musical Assistant. And in fact that concept came from the Center for Music Experiment that I started at San Diego, because when Boulez decided that he was going to begin this project at IRCAM, he sent a team around to MIT, Stanford and San Diego, and maybe one or two other places in the States, to just see what people were doing with technology. And I had started the Center for Music Experiment and had what I called Fellows there who were young creative people who worked on their own stuff, but also helped the senior visitors with what they were doing. This had not occurred to the IRCAM people before that, but then they started this idea of the Musical Assistant. So I realized right away that this allowed me to make a choice: whether I would decide to spend a few years not composing and learning what I would need to do to become a self-sufficient computer-music composer or that I was going to collaborate with other people.

You had mentioned at the very beginning of our conversation I had been very much a loner and had not collaborated, except for once, with anybody but Karen. So that was a watershed moment. I decided that I was going to take that very seriously and that working with these people who were younger than me was going to involve a lot of respect and a lot of attention and the cultivation of a real relationship that they could get something out of and that I would get something out of, too. So I worked with a lot of different young people. And I think that every one of those relationships has been good for me and good for them, at least I hope so. And it’s still going on. I’m working right now with an extraordinary young guy from Lima, Peru, named Jaime Oliver, who is very much interested in the real time instantiation of algorithms by using multimodal input devices that allow eight different parameters to be constantly molded in performance. This is very exciting territory, and I couldn’t do it without him. On the other hand, he couldn’t do it without me.

FJO: So how much influence do any of these people have on the resultant composition of yours?

RR: Well, a lot and none. A lot, in the sense that they are the instantiators; they make it work. Everybody, I’m sure, has had the experience of depending unwisely on a computer and having it fail at the most crucial moment. And there’s nothing you can do. You cannot cajole a computer. Either it’s working properly and you know what to do or it denies your desires. So they are crucial in the sense that they actually make it work. Because of my background in engineering, I’m frequently—I would say almost always—able to say, “This is how I think we can do this.” For example, when I conceive an algorithm I have the entire logic of it laid out: point by point exactly what is supposed to happen, how I think it can be realized, what the goals should be in terms of sound. But I don’t code it. Somebody else codes it. So it’s symbiotic.

I think that that’s what collaboration is all about. You enter into a relationship with one or more people and you have to sacrifice some of your autonomy and they have to sacrifice some of theirs in order to get to a place that you couldn’t get without each other. And I like that kind of situation.

FJO: These kinds of relationships with individual performers and tech people are very different from working with an orchestra. You mentioned earlier on that Peters published some early music out of yours before you could think twice about it, and now it’s out there in the world. All the music you’ve written subsequently is now out there, too. So theoretically someone could get your music and perform it and not work with you directly at all. When you get to an orchestra, maybe you work with the conductor, but chances are you’ll never interact directly with any of the musicians in the orchestra. It’s a very different way of realizing a piece of music. But you have also written pieces for the orchestra, pieces you’ve even titled symphonies. So it would be fair to say that you also believe in the continuance of that tradition as a way of expressing yourself musically. Yet it seems like a very different aesthetic from your other work.

RR: I suppose, largely because of the rather unusual background that I have, that I really wanted to address the tradition in some way at a certain point, as I felt more confident in my capacities and I had more opportunities in front of me. So I wrote some string quartets and I wrote some symphonic works. And that was an important thing I felt for me to do. It’s certainly nothing that I did in an artificial way. It was something that I wanted to do. I think that there is extraordinary richness in all of the traditional vehicles that exist in Western music, certainly the symphony orchestra and the string quartet are the two most important.

The orchestra, of course, is a social organization and, at least as I’ve understood it myself or have even seen it work elsewhere, there’s no way that you can penetrate that. You can work with a string quartet or an individual pianist or violinist or percussionist, but you can’t really work with an orchestra. An orchestra is an entity and I think it has its own social boundaries. I could give you an example which I don’t think is deleterious to the reputation of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. At the time that I wrote Symphony: The Stages of Life for [Esa-Pekka] Salonen, in the last movement, which is about age, there was a long passage where I wanted the whole string section to be playing very assertively but very ponticello. In the first rehearsal that passage went by and there was no ponticello. So I talked to Esa-Pekka and said that I really wanted that. So we talked to the concertmaster and he said, “Yes, yes, Maestro.” But in the next rehearsal, same thing—no ponticello. And after a while, Salonen said, “They’re not going to play it; it’s not beautiful.” You can tremolo, as in the Viennese, but you don’t play sul ponticello if you’re the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It’s a great orchestra and they’ve played a number of my pieces magnificently. And they played that piece magnificently, too, but that was not something they believed was in their proper purview. And I’m O.K. with that.

This was one of many such instances that I experienced with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the BBC Symphony, and so on. You realize there’s no point in trying to make that beast something it isn’t. On the other hand, there’s no comparable sonorous resource. It’s not just the variety of sources, it’s this choric effect—the idea of people doing things at the same time. It’s actually related to collaboration. Something happens when you get twenty-four violins that cannot happen with two.

FJO: You’ve also done a number of pieces where you’ve created your own kind of orchestra. I’m thinking of a piece like Archipelago, which is a large one-of-a-kind ensemble piece where you picked the players, which is very different from working with an orchestra. And you’ve worked with large groups dedicated to playing new music, like the Ensemble Intercontemporain, which is very different from working with the L.A. Phil. They’d probably do the ponticello!

RR: Not as different as you think, but they would do the ponticello. But the EIC [Ensemble Intercontemporain] is also a social structure. They’re civil servants. They cannot be fired. It’s complicated.

FJO: In terms of tradition—we talked about symphonies and string quartets which have histories that now span centuries—you also wrote a really unusual song cycle based on poetry by John Ashbery. That form really isn’t as much alive as a form nowadays in new music.

RR: Maybe regrettably.

FJO: Your solution to that was very unique and also is another example of a deep collaboration. Ashbery will always be present in that piece, not only through his words but through the recording of the sound of his voice, which is part of your piece.

RR: I was a visiting professor at Amherst. I don’t even remember what year that was, maybe ’89. I’ve moved around a lot, but I always try when I go to a place I haven’t been to before to take that occasion to re-ignite something, to do something I haven’t done before that I wouldn’t otherwise do. So going to Amherst, where Emily Dickinson was, it was clear that what had to happen there had to have something to do with poetry. So I went to Dickinson’s house a number of times, and I read Richard Wilbur and other poets associated with that area. But nothing clicked. Then one night I was reading, in Helen Vendler’s book of American poetry, “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” of Ashbery’s. And the next morning I realized that things that I had understood the night before I couldn’t understand the next morning. In other words, there was something time specific about comprehension. It wasn’t a general thing; it wasn’t as though you’d understand and after you understood you’d understand the next day. It isn’t like that. That was very interesting. What usually happens when something like that occurs is that I want to write music about it, and so I decided to do a string orchestra piece [Whispers Out of Time].

After it had won the Pulitzer, I sent a CD and a score to Ashbery. And he wrote back and said the next time you’re in New York, let’s talk. So I did and he told me that he frequently writes poetry while listening to music. But it isn’t contemporary music—it’s Brahms and things like that. And he said that it would be really interesting [for him] to write listening to music written about his writing. I never found out whether he did that. I doubt that he did that, but it was fascinating. And we really did collaborate, because I would go to him and I would say, “Here are the poems that I want to work with, here’s what I think, and here’s some questions.” He would give me different answers every time. And he would deny that what he said before was true at all. At a certain point I realized there was no point in pursuing that line of inquiry anymore. And I was just interested in John as a human being, a fascinating and elusive fellow.

Then he had to produce the text. He sent me a number of things which I didn’t think were what I wanted. Then at one point he sent me this text, “Debit Night,” and he said, “I send this as something like styrofoam peanuts in which you can pack the precious poems.” Beautiful! And it turned out that that text had references to all the poems in subtle ways. And then he came out to UCSD and he read it. And his reading was so laconic, so flat. And I said, “John, can you put a little more into this reading?” And then—he…would…talk…like… that. And I’d say, “John, that doesn’t sound natural.” John is John. What you get, that’s him. And several times we had to re-engineer individual words which couldn’t be understood. The very last phrase he says is, “Last things I think to think about.” We had to actually microsurgery that in order to get it so that it sounded like “Last things I think to think about.”

FJO: And that became the title of the piece.

RR: Probably because of that!

FJO: Since you mentioned winning the Pulitzer, which was now 20 years ago, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about that award. At the time you won, there was commentary floating around describing you as the first experimental composer to win the award since Charles Ives. There have always been people who have taken issue with the composers who’ve won the Pulitzer and the kind of work that wins. And in the last decade or so, the Pulitzer committee has issued prominent public statements about wanting to open up the award.

RR: There are several things to say about this. One thing is that it seems to me to be very clear that our society already rewards certain kinds of behaviors lavishly. And it strikes me as being bizarre that any institution would spread its wings in such a way that it uses what could be a mechanism for increasing the awareness of areas that do not get attention in the society in order to improve its own image. It seems regrettable and outrageous. It’s not that I have anything against the idea that there are very expert people doing all kinds of music. This is clearly true, and it always has been and always will be. But it’s also true that certain kinds of activity gain enormous notoriety, financial reward, privilege, etc. and others don’t. If you think of the number of ways in which this society applauds its serious artists, be it composers or poets or painters, it’s very small, particularly compared to other societies, especially in Europe. It seems to me that it would be nice if there were some sort of balance between societal reward and—I don’t know what you would call it—specialist reward. This is not just in music. It’s true everywhere. And from my point of view it used to be the case [with the Pulitzer], which is by no means to say that every judgment made by the Pulitzer process was a good one.

I was actually rather insignificantly, though meaningfully, a part of that change, because there was a time in the early ’90s when I was on the committee along with George Perle. We had a number of very remarkable opportunities that year among the applicants, and the one we chose was Ralph Shapey, who had written an hour-long orchestral work that he conducted with the Chicago Symphony. Now, Ralph’s music is tough, and this definitely was not a fun piece; it was acerbic and dynamic and raw and amazing. And we thought that Shapey deserved recognition in this way. The charge to the committee was to choose three people, and then the board, which consists mainly of journalists who have no musical background professionally, makes the choice. But in this case the committee decided we didn’t want to give them choices. We were just going to give Ralph Shapey. And so there developed quite a contentious situation. Needless to say, I have never been involved in the Pulitzer operation since then. And I think as a result of the board’s decision that it wanted to be more in control of this capacity to bless certain work, that’s the way it is now.

FJO: To spiral back, I brought up Archipelago, but we never really had an opportunity to talk about it. I’m particularly curious about that piece because it served as a springboard for you for so much other music. I’d love to know more about what your compositional process was.

RR: I mentioned earlier that I like when I go to an unfamiliar locale, or have a special kind of experience, to use it to do something that I haven’t done before. So when I went there [to IRCAM in Paris] in 1980-81, I decided that I was going to remake my way of composing. And so I thought a great deal and did actually take a new approach, which has certainly been relatively dominant since that time. I think occasionally about how unusual it is in mid-career to have a year or two to do just what you want to do. It’s really an amazing gift that I received. And so I took it very seriously. I rethought my way of composing. I got into the idea of using recorded sound and the idea of performative information. It was a very special time.

There’s an anecdote that I really enjoy about that. When the piece was done in Toronto at one point, it was done on a program with Cage—they did Archipelago and Cage’s Dance /4 Orchestras—and Paul Zukofsky conducted the Canadian National Youth Orchestra, which was very, very good. After the performance of my piece, I had gone up and taken a bow and John was sitting on the aisle. He reached up and he grabbed me as I came back up the aisle. And I stopped and leaned over to hear what he was going to say. And he said, “That should keep you busy for the rest of your life.” And at the moment I thought, “What does he mean?” But then I understood that he had heard what you said. He had heard that there was potential in the strategies of that piece. And interestingly enough when Xenakis heard it, he was critical of the conventionality of the thematic material. And I said, “But Iannis, it needs to be ‘conventional’ at its beginnings so that it can go somewhere else.” He didn’t buy that.

FJO: So how did you get it to go to other places?

RR: I thought at that time that the quintessential musical process—and I think not only in the West, but internationally—is variation. That is to say you posit something and then you elaborate it—you change it, you return to it, you go away from it, you go very far away from it, etc. It really had to do with the basic idea of variation. And I got interested because I had a colleague in San Diego—Jerry Balzano—who was a cognitive psychologist and he talked to me one day about the term (in psychology) invariance. Invariance is the measure when you change something of the degree to which you have not changed it. In other words, it’s what remains characteristic of something as you alter it. So that was a part of all of this. Of course you can change things by instrumentation, but I also found that you can do some remarkable transformations through the computer. That was the first time I had a lot of time to work with computers in that transformative strategy, and also spatialization. My Musical Assistant, Thierry Lancino, and I created an eight-channel spatial paradigm. And so there were a lot of ways in which I was trying to take recognizable kernels and weave them into a mosaic of interacting transformations. That was the idea: a transformational mosaic, as I called it.

FJO: That raises the whole idea of how your acoustic music affects your electronic music and vice versa. There’s a very early piece of yours that I’ve always been a huge fan of, Quick Are The Mouths of Earth, which I don’t think has even been re-issued on CD from the original Nonesuch LP. It’s a purely acoustic piece, but what you’re doing with timbre sounds to me like it’s very much informed by the whole world of possibilities that was opened up by electronic sound.

RR: Nope. The origins of that piece were in Carter’s Double Concerto. Karen and I were living in Paris. I was composing and had no peers, so there was nobody to talk to. We found out through the International Herald Tribune that Carter was in Berlin, so we bought a car for 28 dollars and drove to Berlin. And I called up to try to get an appointment—I didn’t know him at all—and [Carter’s wife] Helen agreed to an appointment. And it happened that Maderna was conducting a performance of the Double Concerto. I heard that and particularly the four percussionists who were stationed at the periphery of the stage in raised platforms—it was really something, and, of course, the differentiation between the harpsichord and piano, and so on and so on.

We came back and then we left Paris and went to Italy. And I thought, I want to write a piece that deals with spatial differentiation, and so there are three flutes and three cellos—a very impractical piece as many of my pieces turned out to be. And because we were being supported in a very roundabout way at that point by the Rockefeller Foundation, I sent the score to a foundation officer as evidence that I was not wasting their money. And for some reason they put it on a table in their office. Arthur Weisberg came in, looking for money for the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, saw the score, and said, “I’m gonna play it.” That’s how it happened. And so I got this message at some point, through Peters, “Arthur Weisberg is going to perform the piece; do you have parts?” I didn’t have any parts; I didn’t think anybody would ever play that. So I copied out the parts and sent them. We were still in Europe. And I was in New York at some point a few years later and I met Arthur. And he said, “This is unbelievable. We’re editing the recording right now. So come up and listen.” So I came up and of course it was a beautiful performance and a beautiful recording, but there was no spatial impact at all. And I said, “It all sounds like a central orb with everybody in the same space. How come the instruments don’t sound like they have any distance between them?” And he said, “Oh, the engineer doesn’t like the ping-pong effect.” And I said, “But if you look at the score, it’s very clear that it says there are spatial motives that are passed back and forth. That’s part of the information of the piece and it’s completely lost in that recording.” They would not change it. It was against that recording engineer’s personal ethic.

FJO: That’s like some musicians not being willing to play sul ponticello.

RR: And that’s the only recording. So far as I’m aware, it’s never been recorded in a way that shows what the piece actually is.

FJO: One final area that I’d like to explore with you is that you have been based at UCSD for the last forty years; that’s an incredibly long amount of time to be in the same place. And you’ve had students who have gone on to become pretty significant in this world of composition—Paul Dresher, Michael Daugherty, Chaya Czernowin, and many others. We began this conversation talking about Ross Finney and how tough he was on people but with you it was actually a very valuable mentoring relationship. I’m curious about the role that you feel that you’ve had as a teacher.

RR: UCSD is a very remarkable program. From the beginning we have had a lot of international currents there. So there have been a lot of very smart, very gifted, and very diverse musical visions among the students that have passed through there. So there’s no question that encountering under demanding circumstances the designs, the desires, and the frustrations of strong young composers is a very enlivening activity. It doesn’t mean, of course, that every student that goes through there or every student I’ve had has been a pleasure. But it’s certainly the case that by and large, it has been an extremely rich experience, and it continues to be. They’re very smart. They’re very idealistic. When you feel frustrated or irritated about other aspects of musical culture, especially in this country, the idealism, energy, and vision of these young people is a tonic. It doesn’t stop. Every year a new crop comes and they’re full of dreams and capacity; it’s wonderful.

FJO: So has it influenced your own work?

RR: I imagine so. I wouldn’t be able to identify specific things, but my feeling is that everything that I do and everything that I hear influences my music. I hope it does. That is my aim. The aim is to embody life in what you do in every way you can. The other teacher that I had, Roberto Gerard, always used to say that composition involves—and this is before we became aware of the problems of language— “the whole man”. And he always said that you must put everything that you have and everything that you are into every musical act. And so where I live, who I interact with, what I hear, what the weather’s like, what my granddaughter says to me, and so on, they all affect the music. And so I’m sure that the students affected the music, too. But I’m not aware of any particular relationships.

I enjoy teaching. I think that there are some things that you can’t really teach. But the one thing that you can do is to accelerate and expand the process. You can affect time in the sense that you can make young people aware of things that would otherwise have taken them a little bit longer to become aware of themselves. I don’t think that you can give them things that they don’t have. And of course you can’t take away the things that they do have.

It’s the same as the situation you asked about earlier in relation to early pieces. I listen to something I wrote forty years ago, and I know without question that that is me. And these young people who come through: they are what they are and they will always be what they are. But one thing that you can do, I think in some cases more than in others, is to help them move more rapidly in the direction that they’re probably going to go in anyway.

FJO: So, in the curve ball department, you once said something to me over lunch many years ago; I don’t know if you remember this, but you made a very provocative comment.

RR: Uh oh.

FJO: You said that perhaps there are too many people studying musical composition.

RR: At one point we [at UCSD] used to have from time to time a “retreat” (Joji Yuasa used to, memorably, call them “retreatments”) where we would go for a couple of days and discuss things that you don’t normally have time to. And at one of those retreats I proposed that we abolish the undergraduate music major. And that we continue service courses, of course. But we would change from trying to teach young people how to be musicians to trying to teach everyone how to listen and enjoy music. That was not well received. I got into a lot of trouble with my department. The same kind of thing I think potentially applies to undergraduate composition major situations. And this is something that I still worry about a lot. I worry about the idea of anything that smacks of seduction, anything that leads a young person into something that they might not otherwise enter. To me it’s a kind of scary thing given, again, the nature of the American society’s reaction to and relation to “art.” We put quotes around that because who knows exactly what art is. We’re an extremely utilitarian society and we want things to be useful. And if they’re not useful in obvious pragmatic ways, we tend to value them less. So if you have feelings for people and feelings for music, and you see someone who’s earnest and hard working and it’s your guess that this is not going to work out, what do you do? Do you go right on encouraging, exhorting, etc., or do you say maybe this is not the right direction? I find that it would be too personally painful to say that to anybody. But it certainly occurs to me.

Does anyone have leisure time anymore? And if they do, there is an incomparable number of ways they could spend it. So how many people are going to spend it on music and listening to demanding music? It’s a small subset. Of course, as I’ve pointed out in other situations, it’s still the case that orders of magnitude more people have heard Elliott Carter’s music in concert than had heard Mozart’s while he was alive. The largest audience that Mozart ever played to was something like 140 people. So we think about our small audiences and the idea of a ghetto for new music, from a statistical point of view it’s not true. Lots of people hear this music. And lots of people are interested in it. The picture shifts because the society is so large and because the power of economic forces is so great to exploit what can be exploited.

FJO: Given all of that, it’s interesting that you’ve chosen a personal compositional path that you admit is frequently impractical. And as a teacher your impracticalities can be perceived as a role model.

RR: Impracticality has several dimensions. One form of impracticality is that it is difficult to bring together, in a collaborative way, resources which actually exist. For example, I did a piece several years ago called Justice. And it turned out that to bring an opera singer, a solo percussionist, and an actress together is extraordinarily difficult because they live in totally different value contexts in professional ways. I had not anticipated that. So it’s impractical, but actresses act, singers sing, percussionists percuss, and there’s no problem there. The impracticality is in the combination of real resources. The thing that bothers me is the situation in which the young composer is committed to what I would call fragile or unreliable or evanescent resources, things that are extremely difficult to do and that almost certainly can never be done twice in the same way. And, in addition, in less than totally ideal circumstances may not be even heard. And, of course, at least among some composers, there’s a very high value put on being sonically novel.

I like strange sounds as much as anybody, but at a certain point I realized that—and this goes back to pragmatics again—I would say that by and large, most pieces get about six hours of attention from the musicians who are going to premiere them. I don’t remember exactly when this hit me, but I realized one day as a composer I can decide how my six hours are going to be used. I can decide that they’re going to be used figuring out what the notation means, on learning how to communicate with each other, etc., or it can be used in playing music and in being musical. You don’t have both things in most situations.

Back to the issue of more conventional music, the music which has been heard for a long time and the musicians who write now in a way that is resonant with those traditional ways have an incomparable advantage over people who don’t write that way because it’s “in the ear” of the performers. The musicians who are performing know the standard and that standard is expected of them, whereas in the context of many new pieces the standard, the reference, is unclear. The reference might actually not exist; it may be created in the context of working on that piece. That takes time. That time—the six hours, if that is an appropriate figure—is then spent on getting to the point where the reference exists and not with a refined and elegant use of that new space. So there are a lot of kinds of impracticality and they each have their perils and they each have their wondrous rewards.

I mention impracticality in relation to my own work because I’ve done a lot of pieces that others have told me may count as “projects,” so I started naming a lot of works “projects,” because if that’s what they are, then let’s call them that. But it means that you spend a considerable amount of time creating a fairly large and ungainly experience and then it’s performed maybe very well just once or twice: Odyssey, for example, that’s been done maybe five or six times.

FJO: But the pieces that were done once were at least done once well.

RR: They were done once honorably; it’s different.

FJO: This is an advantage to writing for groups like a string quartet or interpreters of your music that you have long-term relationships with as friends and colleagues, as opposed to writing a piece for an orchestra, where you’ll get only one shot at a performance or perhaps, if you’re lucky, a four-performance run if your piece is part of a subscription series concert, or if it’s a three-orchestra co-commission, you’ll get performances by the three orchestras, but then that’s usually it. If you write for individual players or a small ensemble that tours to many different cities, maybe they’ll give that six hours to that first performance and that performance will be honorable, as you say, but not transformative. But after that it can enter their repertoire, and they’ll keep playing it and their performances will get better and better.

RR: If you’re lucky. I’ve had that kind of relationship with the Arditti Quartet, and it’s been incredible. They played pieces many times, and they get better and better and better. And it’s a different experience to hear your work played by masterful musicians who have a history with it.

FJO: So to spiral it back to the teaching question, in terms of the students that you encounter: You are a creator of impractical projects. So do you try to instill in your students the goal of being more practical, to write pieces that will work at least do be done well once and ideally go on to have a life, or do you encourage them to be who they already are.

RR: The philosophy of the composition department at UCSD is this: if you read the catalog it says: We try to find out what the composers who come to us want and try to get them to be better at that; we don’t try to impose anything on them. The thing that I do with my students is try to make very certain that they understand the consequences of what they’re doing. It doesn’t mean that I’ll say, “You should do that.” It means that I’ll tell them, to the best of my ability, “This is what is likely to occur if you go down that path.” And so if they choose that path, that’s fine. I think my job is to say, maybe prophylactically, “I think there are issues in what you’re doing. And these are what they are. And this is why they are there.” And then we go on. They make their own call. They decide whether they want to continue on this path, whether they want to inflect the path. I don’t tell anybody they have to do anything; that wouldn’t be honorable. But I do want to make sure that they know what I think the consequences of what they’re doing could be.

FJO: On your website you have a wonderful series of talks about the future of music by a wide variety of people who have visited San Diego over the years. The person who is sadly missing from that list is yourself.

RR: Oops. Well, there are two sources where I’ve talked quite a bit about these things. One is an article in the journal, American Music. And the other is an interview in Computer Music Journal. It’s a very tough question to answer because I think that music as a phenomenon is probably undergoing a change. When I was a student, I imagined that music would continue to be something that occurred in halls, in front of quiet audiences, and with performers who were dedicating their lives to performing that kind of music. It doesn’t seem to me that that’s true anymore. I think there are a vast number of ways in which musical creativity can be exercised. And I always encourage my students to build a way of working that allows them to use any material for any musical purpose. That’s what I try to do, so I’m interested in non-traditional spaces—working with theatre, working with dance, and other things. I think that the likely future of music is much less a locus of clear points than it used to be. I think that music is likely to be a behavior that spreads into other venues, into other media, mixed with other media, in contexts that we don’t now think of as music presentation contexts, and so on. I think that music is, or will become, the eloquent, elegant, masterful use of sound in whatever context for whatever purpose. A musician who thinks in terms of opportunity as tied to particular sorts of venues and media is probably deluding him- or herself; it’s not going to continue to exist in the same way that it does now. But exactly where it’s going, I don’t know. But I do know that it’s moving to a more generalized profile. And that doesn’t mean, again, that it can’t be masterful or moving or everything that music has been before; it’s just that the frame is not stable anymore.