Better Know a Composer

Better Know a Composer is a feature that will present readers with music & musicians whose work may be inaccessible, or simply unexposed to them. It is an attempt to both humanize the work and illuminate the personality of the responsible party.


Today’s installment presents Dr. David Smooke.

David Smooke is a composer, professor, and experimental improvisational performer. His music cannot be contained within one genre or media.

In his own words:

My music is about exploding boundaries in the continuing search for transcendence. These metamorphoses manifest themselves through the physical instrumentation, the musical development of material and the dramatic through-line of the compositions. I envision a pitch-universe inclusive of all aesthetics, exploring the common ground between microtonal modulations and crunchy dissonances. Throughout my music, natural phenomena are reflected in melodies reminiscent of bird calls and in pulsing yet unpredictable rhythms similar to tidal wave patterns. Disjointed moments of pure sound coalesce into regions of clarity defined by funk-style grooves or long sinuous melodies. I find that the gestures in my pieces inevitably derive from the experimental post-punk goth and progressive rock musicians who in turn inspired my interest in art music. The drama of performance and narration is always foremost in my mind, reflecting my years working in theater as a director, producer and stagehand. My deep love for the visual arts has led me to collaborate on multi-media installation works and performance art. In addition to composing, I perform free improvisations on toy piano with the support of Schoenhut toy pianos.

In order to better know this composer I have posed him with a collection of short questions which will hopefully give listeners an insight to his personality and thereby his work.

When was the first time that you heard music and knew that you were going to be a musician for life?

Oddly enough, I only truly dedicated myself to music in my mid-20s. Before that, I wrote fiction and poetry (very poor fiction and poetry!) and worked professionally in theater while also writing music. So, there wasn't really an epiphanal moment for me.


What was that piece or experience?

However, I also will never forget the first time I heard George Crumb's "Ancient Voices of Children" and also Webern's String Quartet Op. 5. Both pieces were part of a music history class that I took in high school. I was utterly stunned by how absolutely viscerally beautiful music could be. And at the same time they made no intellectual sense to me. A great deal of my time over the next decade was spent attempting to understand how it was possible to craft such beauty.


If you were falling out of an airplane and luckily had your headphones on while you fell to your ultimate demise, what would you want to be listening to?

Messiaen. Quartet for the End of Time. Hopefully I'll be falling from a very great height as I'll need the full 45 minutes.


Do you ever imagine yourself on a tour with explosive stage props?

Yes! Especially if I can be playing toy piano. Actually, the Stonehenge prop from "This Is Spinal Tap" would be a great addition to any toy piano concert. 


List the last 5 records you listened to?

Records? What is this, 1985?


About the 5 recent records. I felt badly about my fast answer, so I just went to iTunes to check:


The last ones I played all the way through were: Michael Formanek, "The Rub and Spare Change;" Steve Reich, "Music for 18 Musicians;"  Tricky, "Maxinquaye;" Meshuggah, " Catch ThirtyThree;" and Morton Feldman, "Clarinet Quintet." But I listen to Pandora a lot these days because I like that it will play music that I've never heard before. 


Do you have a meal that you to eat like before important sessions or concerts?

With my schedule these days, I'll take whatever meal will fit into the time slot. If I have unlimited time, it's always sushi: the perfect energy food. (This response brought to you by the Sushi U.S.A. Council)


What was the inspiration for the first piece of music you wrote?

Ooh! Embarrassing question. My first completed piece was called "March of the Lemmings." Originally it was an electronic piece that I orchestrated for my high school orchestra. I told everyone that it was based on a dream, but it wasn't. I just liked the idea of lemmings.


What was the inspiration for the last piece of music you wrote?

A mind-blowing violist who sings and plays and will do anything a composer asks for in a piece. Her name is Wendy Richman. 


Mozart or Mahler?

Yes. When I want to laugh, Mozart. When I want to cry, Mahler. 


If all of your fingers fell off inexplicably, how would you spend the rest of your days?

I wouldn't change much of anything. No reason to stop writing music or teaching just because I have no fingers. Toy piano playing would be a bit more difficult, but most of my playing could be fairly easily replicated by the side of my hand anyway. 


What is your favorite bird call?

Veery. But the Goldfinch is my lucky bird. 


Name the album you have listened to the most times?

I really want to answer this, but I have no idea. In high school, I wore out several albums (Peter Gabriel, Bauhaus) that I haven't touched since college. Most of the albums that I play over and over again these days either didn't exist back in the day or didn't interest me then. I'm always trying to find new things.


An extensive compilation of the composers work can be both seen and heard here.

For more information about the composer consult his webpage here or his facebook page here.

Check him out for an ear opening experience and stay tuned for further notes from our interview and concert announcements.

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