Jessica: Tyler and I met, of course, through Friends! When a composer in Chicago connected us to Tyler, we were so excited to have a local composer Friend to work with. Soon after we were introduced, Tyler shared a recording of a brand new piece for flute and horn. I knew we had a great flutist and horn player who love working together and thought this was perfect for them. Having never actually met in person, we have been talking to Tyler from opposite Florida coasts about his work, and can’t wait to present his piece Become/Decay on May 14.
Jessica: First, we are performing Become/Decay for flute and horn. Can you talk to us a little about the Japanese inspiration for that?
The inspiration for “become/decay” is this aesthetic idea, attributed to the Japanese, Wabi-Sabi. I say attributed because I think the values inherent in Wabi-Sabi transcend the Japanese culture. Basically, Wabi-Sabi values imperfection and transience… nothing that exists is perfect and everything eventually disappears. It’s actually quite the opposite from Modernism that came about in the 20th century. So a lot of this wabi-sabi art has this “damaged” aesthetic to it, and it’s quite beautiful: maybe a piece of pottery with a crack in it, or a painting with really rough textures.
I would recommend the beautiful little volume “Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, & Philosophers.” It’s pretty concise, gives a brief history on the aesthetic, and offers a multiplicity of descriptors.
While we’re on the subject, I should add that wabi-sabi was sort of a retroactive discovery on my part. For a good while I’ve been very interested in conveying this idea of perfection vs. imperfection in my music in various ways, and when I discovered wabi-sabi it tied all of my existing values together quite nicely.
Jessica: Next, as much as everyone we talk to has different talents and experiences, we haven’t worked with someone on radio before. What is working on the radio like? What are the challenges or some of your favorite things?
In general, working on the radio is quite a lot of fun. I primarily work for Classical WSMR in Tampa, which is part of WUSF Public Media. Most of what I do is with classical music, but I also do a few things with the news station (WUSF).
My job is pretty varied, and usually in a day I’m doing all sorts of different things. I’m on the air daily, hosting my own two-hour shift weekdays from 6-8 PM. I also record what we call “continuity” breaks (these happen during network programs). I get to do production on promos every once in awhile. I’m also responsible for making sure the information and files from new CDs get put into our system, so there’s a bit of data entry with that task. And I’ve also recently been a substitute board operator in the mornings on the news station, which I really enjoy – my ears are always engaged, making sure things go in and out of the network (NPR) smoothly, to our local news host, and making sure the levels are all even.
I’m not sure I could choose a favorite thing – I like doing it all! Plus, I correlate all these different things to what I do in the field of music composition. Speaking on the radio can easily be related to music performance (think of the end of sentences as cadences), and the production and engineering stuff is like composing in a lot of ways.
Jessica: How did you get started on radio?
It’s sort of funny… I always say that my work in radio was like an open door I accidentally stumbled through. When I was a senior in high school I had a teacher tell me my voice sounded like it’d be great for radio. So in the very first week of my undergraduate studies, I walked over to the campus public radio station and asked them how I could get on board. I was able to volunteer and train for the first semester, and after that I had a job doing radio.
Actually I did even more things in radio at my undergraduate school… I was doing similar things to what I do here at WSMR but I was also writing news stories, interviewing folks, and anchoring midday and afternoon news. So I guess I got a little bit of journalism under my wing, too. I’m pretty fortunate to have had that opportunity early on, because it led me to my current day job.
Jessica: What got you started working with electronics? What is it like musically and technically working with something outside the traditional “live” instruments?
I started working with electronics when I got to grad school and it totally changed everything. Working in radio sort of set me up in some ways (at least on the production side of things), but even that isn’t comparable.
I think musically it’s all the same, it’s just a different medium with which to compose. The biggest difference is that the possibilities are endless in electronic music. You don’t have to worry about practicality, you can create your own timbres, and you can transform materials more freely and in much more varied ways. And on the performance sides of things, sometimes it can be easier to put together a piece with electronic accompaniment than with a pianist or ensemble.
It’s important for me to note that at the end of the day, I don’t really see a difference between acoustic and electronic/electroacoustic composition. Electronic sounds are just another family of instruments that can be used. It’s all composition, and the two sound worlds (acoustic and electronic) mutually inform one another in my compositional process.
Jessica: What makes you choose electronics in a piece?
In recent pieces with electronics, the performer I’m writing the piece for will request electronics. Other times, like when I write music for dance, for instance, I’ll go with electronics just because it’s logistically easier (and less time consuming) than writing for acoustic instruments.
Jessica: What else do you think about when composing? How does narrative vs. mood fit into your compositions? (either Become/Decay or in general)
I primarily think of narrative as relating to form in my music. I wouldn’t say much of my music is innately programmatic, i.e., most of it doesn’t tell a story. But I do take into consideration the way moment-to-moment events occur, especially the pacing, and this is narrative to me.
Jessica: How did you get started composing?
I’ve always had an interest in creating things, and I’m not sure it actually mattered what I ended up making. Composition was always a natural thing to get into because of that interest, and the fact that I was a musician. I would actually say that arranging and transcribing songs for my high-school pep band was sort of a gateway into composition, just because it was an act of moving around notes on the page.
My first “real” piece I composed when I was 16, written for a small brass ensemble. I was lucky enough back then to have a band director who encouraged what I was doing and put together a small ensemble to play the piece.
Jessica: We know you’re excited about teaching, too. What kind of subjects do you teach? Why do you love teaching? Any advice for young musicians ?
Currently, I teach Aural Skills 1 and 2 as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and I also teach a high school composition course through the university.
This is probably a fairly generic answer, but I think that teaching is probably the best way to give back to society. Throughout my education, I’ve always had great teachers, and the best way to repay them, at least in my mind, is to be the best educator I can be. I also love reaching those “a-ha” moments with students… and it’s always challenging (and fun!) for me to figure out the best way to arrive at that moment.
My advice for young musicians, especially as they get into college, is to remember that it’s just music. At times we have a tendency to make a big deal out of it, but at the end of the day… you know, it’s just music. However, the other side of that coin is this… if you’re going to commit yourself to this field, I think you owe it to yourself to absorb as much information about it as possible (be a sponge!). Music theory, music history, piano skills, etc… It’s all important, and the more we know the better we can shape our contribution and make informed decisions in the field.
Jessica: Do you have any favorite pieces?
This changes often, but here are a handful of pieces I always come back to:
Beat Furrer “spur”
Hearing spur for the first time was really a pivotal moment for me. This piece is incredible. There’s so much going on, but it’s also such a logical and and efficient way to make use of musical materials (the piano is mostly just playing one note in octaves). It’s also fairly representative of the kinds of textures Furrer usually incorporates into his music.
Some other favorites are:
Luciano Berio “Folk Songs” – the chamber ensemble version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_DpEaKsFm4)
Berio is my favorite composer, and I love all of his music, but this piece is in particular is pretty different from his other vocal works, like Circles and O King. I believe it’s the best example of Berio’s intimate knowledge of language – he assembles all these different folk songs from different countries in different languages and nails it.
Kaija Saariaho “Cendres” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDRT7IsNCc4)
The way Cendres begins and blossoms outward from a single point is the primary reason I keep coming back to this piece.
Olivier Messiaen “Sept Haikai” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnMcor5Cyeo)
I love the Gagaku movement (movement 4) of Messiaen’s Sept Haikai in particular. Messiaen orchestrates 8 violins in a way that not only imitates the Japanese Shō (mouth organ), but all the harmony happens above the primary melodic line.
Gyorgy Ligeti Violin Concerto (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLy26ZZDRbc)
I just love everything about Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, especially the first and last movements.
Jessica: Do you have any premieres or exciting news you want to share?
In June I have a work being featured on one of the programs at the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival. Actually it’s a huge festival – there’s 35 concerts and my piece, Two Songs after Dylan Thomas, is on the 34th concert. Folks can listen to it here:
Jessica: Sometimes when you recommend a new band to a friend you tell them to start with a specific song rather than leaving them to fend for themselves through multiple albums. Usually you pick one you think your friend will like and yet representative of who they are. Do you have a piece like that our audience should hear to get to know you better?
I would say my most representative piece, in the sense that it includes most (if not all) of my compositional interests, is On the Substance of Multiplicity, which I composed two years ago.
Another work I’m really happy with is cello music, composed for cellist Maria Hadge who is also the cellist in my recording of Multiplicity. She’s the performer I’ve worked with the most and this piece was really a team effort. I’ve also recently finished a new work for her for solo cello and electronics called Braided Belt. She’s publicly described the work as “pole-vaulting into a treehouse.” I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s positive.
Finally, Losing Ground is a work I recently completed that has accompanied original choreography. The work is fixed media, but includes samples I made of piano extended techniques like harmonics, plucking of strings, and muting strings.
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