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Composer Julia Wolfe | 2016 MacArthur Fellow

Composer Julia Wolfe | 2016 MacArthur Fellow


My work has focused on these large-scale
works that address issues of American labor, American labor history. My name is Julia Wolfe and I’m a composer.
One of the biggest influences I’ve had musically has been an American folk
music, music from Appalachia. But, for me the power of music has nothing to do
with its context or its genre; it’s just sort of how powerful the music is.
“…try that same same spot again…” This is is ETHEL, and they are rehearsing blue dress
for string quartet. I’m combining the rigor of this classical education I’ve had
and how to construct a composition, and then this amazing body energy that you
really get more in folk or in rock music. “…It’s very Jimi Hendrix’s like…” And
how do those two meet? In terms of sensibilities, I’m definitely drawn to a very kind of
earthy, pretty sound. Anthracite Fields is a piece about the
coal-mining region in northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m from Pennsylvania. I
thought it would be very interesting to take a look at where I’m from, and that
led me up to coal country and there’s this time period where I’m kind of hunting
and gathering, and it’s an amazing moment where–when that information becomes
music. How does history become music? But suddenly, when you’re singing the name of a minor
or you’re trying to sing a speech that someone has given, the music takes over
and really becomes the expression of the idea, and this is a kind of magic
when those two things fuse. My piece Steel Hammer is the story of the John
Henry ballad of a compilation and a response to over 200 versions of this
ballad; and what became interesting to me in that case was that the ballad had
traveled and change, and so the piece became a story about the story. Today,
we’re rehearsing a piece I wrote for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and it’s part of a larger project that
puts field recordings into a live context. “It’s got that kind of quiet intensity
to it and sort of start quiet intensity and then at the build…” What I did was I took field recording
and this field recording is of French Canadian singer who sings math music and
it’s this beautiful kind of syllabic singing. “….everything else is good…” And the dynamic
of the live players playing the field recording creates this fusion energy.
MacArthur Fellowship is an incredible opportunity to take a moment and think
about a dream project; credible as an artist to open your mind and—and
dream.

Comments (1)

  1. Wow, what an interesting person, congratulations on an award well deserved.

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