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USED M/NM The first in the Canadian Composers Series of CDs is a double album of chamber works by Linda Catlin Smith, who was born in New York, but studied in Canada and has lived in Toronto for over 25 years.  The album ‘Drifter’ contains ten pieces dating from 1995 to 2015 played by Quatuor Bozzini and Apartment House. In his introductory essay to the booklet accompanying the Canadian Composers CDs, Nick Storring says that “One of the primary tensions in Linda Catlin Smith's music is between its equal and simultaneous drive toward abstraction and lyricism…. Those who gravitate to the alluring melodic contours of Smith’s music and expect it to unfold along familiar lines will struggle when confronted with its lack of dramatic arc or formalised development. Conversely, those who are initially repelled by this same appearance are apt to be won over by its singular lucid-dream atmospherics.”

In this extract from her interview in the Canadian series booklet, Smith talks about the music she liked as a student, and how she moved towards composing by ear rather than using a system or formal compositional method:

“What kind of music were you most interested in, and writing, when you were at University?

I was interested in everything, I was always curious about new things. In high school, I was very attracted to Stravinsky, Ives, Bartok and Satie. At SUNY Stony Brook, I had a job ordering recordings for the music library, so I was able to listen to music from all over the world that was completely unknown to me. The library at the University of Victoria was also very good, and students were allowed to take out 6 records (LPs!) per week, so I would browse the stacks, bringing home armloads of recordings. The most influential pieces for me were John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts from 1950, Anton Webern's Symphony Op. 21 and Morton Feldman's False Relationships and the Extended Ending, the only Feldman recording they had at the time. I listened to them over and over, as well as some early music recordings, particularly the music of Francois Couperin, Josquin des Prez and Guillaume Du Fay. When the composer Jo Kondo came to teach for a year at UVic, I had my ears completely opened by the course he gave on traditional Japanese music, especially Gagaku. Kondo's recording of his piece Standing was a complete inspiration to me. Kondo, Webern, Feldman, early Cage, Gagaku - these were my worlds.

The music I was writing was generally exploratory: I toyed with 12-tone pitch methods, and other systems and processes. And then one year I had a key moment: I had written a chamber piece that was filled with complex rhythms and gestures, all derived by rather academic means. I just didn't feel attached to it at all. So I scrapped it entirely, and started over, writing only what I could hear. In the end, writing by ear made me feel more connected to what I was doing. The works became simple, more harmonic, and very much focused on orchestration and colour. In those years, I wrote my first string quartet, my first orchestra piece, and several chamber works including my first piece for Baroque instruments (soprano, Baroque flute and harpsichord), a sound world I love to this day.

So do you still compose completely ‘by ear’ with no system at all?

I would say that composing by ear is my system. I think of this as speculative composition - that is to say, I don’t plan everything in advance; rather, I respond to the material at hand on a moment-by-moment basis during the course of the creation of the work. This is not improvisation – not just writing whatever comes into my head, it’s not ‘anything goes’. It's a mode of working that calls for intense scrutiny, questioning, experimentation and a kind of ruthlessness in the process. This way of working – this system – is a combination of intuition and reflection, and most of all, listening. Behind it all, I am always wondering: what if…?  What if it was longer, what if it was thinner, or higher, or brighter or more fluid? For the longest time with each work, I am unsure of what I am doing. But for me, when I don't know what I'm doing, I feel I am on the right track.“

This product was added to our catalog on Tuesday 27 June, 2017.

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