Darwin: Okay. Today I get an opportunity to meet someone new. This is, again, one of the interviews that's being curated by Seth Cluett. He introduced me to this woman. I did a little research on the work and was really blown away, so I'm pretty excited to speak with her. Her name is Angelica Negrón and she is a New York-based artist that has done some phenomenal work. One of the things I'll do is to make sure that, in the podcast notes, I provide some links to some of the performance videos as well as a little documentary that she shared with me. It's really interesting work and I'm really excited to be able to learn more about it. So with no more ordeal, let's talk to Angelica. Hey, how's it going?
Angelica Negrón: Great. Thank you so much for having me.
Darwin: Ah, thank you. And I really appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion with me. Unfortunately this morning you ran into a little issue with your dog. So I'm glad that got settled down and we can have a nice chat.
Angelica: Yes, MIDI is all good now.
Darwin: Yeah. I love the fact that you have a dog named MIDI. That makes me so very happy.
Angelica: He's definitely a MIDI!
Darwin: So to get started on, why don't I have you describe your work a little bit?
Angelica: So, I'm really interested in combining electronics with acoustic instruments. And my approach to electronic music comes mostly from my interest in found sounds and collecting sounds around me and manipulating them. So even though I'm processing them electronically, I would say 99% of the source always comes from an acoustic sound. And, I love playing with this idea of accessibility and finding ways that electronic music and contemporary music can be inviting and accessible to diverse audiences that are not limited to academia or concert halls.
Darwin: Right. And I think what's interesting is in looking at your stuff and having seen some of this in action - when you talk about accessible, you're not necessarily just talking about making it so that people can attach themselves to the instruments, but you're actually... One of your concerns is the expense that it takes to get involved in these things and your interest in finding a way to use more - maybe like more organic sources or more low priced or accessible from an economic standpoint. Right?
Angelica: Yeah, definitely. I'm really interested in demystifying this whole notion of electronic music as something really, really complicated, an expensive that is only for a few people that can afford it. And same with music actually. Both electronic music and classical music have a historic baggage that has a lot to do with privilege, too. So I'm really interested in finding ways to invite people in and invite them to think about the world around them as a possibility for anything that can make sound, and also inviting them to make sounds without even thinking about all the historical baggage that comes with the word "Composer". Because that was something that... I grew up playing violin and it was something that for me was a really alienating thing - the word composer, itself, because of my experience. But yeah, I'm just really drawn to trying to find ways to invite people in and to also let them find a way to listen to their surroundings in a different way and be more curious.
Darwin: Right. Absolutely. Now, one of the things that I found very interesting, of the things that you shared from me and I did some research on, there was a little mini-documentary that was done by BricTV that did two things. First of all, it showed, I think, what a lot of people would find, you know, to be a curiosity, which is you going out and getting vegetables and using sensors to attach to them and using those as triggers for a computer [piece]. But it also showed you going through, I don't know, I guess it was like a shelf or a cupboard of a little things that you've collected over time. And I, you know, I saw that starting, and it's like, "Oh great, a neat little collection of fun toys!" And then you actually started playing them. And I was like, "Oh my God, I never really thought of all the different ways that even a simple - like the guts of a music box or the chimes from inside of a grandfather clock - how many different ways you can make sound or you can interact with that in a way that that's clearly musical."
Angelica: Yeah, I meand that's something that - I've been collecting toys and exploring different sounds of instruments and optics around me for a long time. But it never ceases to surprise me the many possibilities of each object, no matter how small it is. And it actually all started with a music box that I had as a child that has kind of a dark history to it. When I was a child, I was three. One of my aunts sadly passed away with five of my cousins in a car accident. And I remember, when this... I mean, I was three, and this was a long time ago. And my most vivid memory was my grandmother handing out the toys of my cousins that had just passed away to the other cousins cause they're a big family.
And I remember getting a Care Bears plush toy and this Strawberry Shortcake music box that is still with me to this day. And so this music box was a a very special object in my life. And I always remember that I not only loved the, you know - the first thing you hear when you hear a music box, the kind of nostalgic, beautiful, bell-like sound. But I also love that the sound that it made when I was cranking it. And then it sounded a little off and there was something also, and maybe this has to do with the memory of it, of the object for me, it also has some kind of metal-ly, nostalgic shelf connotations, but also a darkness to it. That for me has been always really appealing. And that started my obsession with collecting music boxes and toy instruments.
Darwin: Right. And it's interesting you bring that up because a lot of times it's those kind of dark and personal stories that end up making really deep connections for us as artists with things. And even though we may not, you know, tell that tale to everybody that shows up at a concert, hopefully the depths of feelings actually come out in the work that we do.
Angelica: Definitely. Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
Darwin: Now the other thing, another thing that you shared, that is the flip side of this really personal and performative thing is, some of the stuff you share that is like the compositional work and its performance. So you shared a really neat percussion-based performance called "Gone", which which was immaculately filmed and recorded. That was really great, [as well as] a preview of something called The Chorus Of The Forest. Has The Chorus Of The Forest - has that been performed?
Angelica: Yes, it was. It was premiered in November, the first week of November. We had four performances of it over a weekend at the New York Botanical Garden. It was a commission from them and it was a site specific piece for the Thain Family Forest.
Darwin: I always love site-specific work because, first of all, it by definition is kind of time limited. But secondly, it - more than almost any other kind of performative act - you have to be there or you're never going to experience it. I mean, even if you experience a recording of it that's not the same as the experience of being there. Now, can you explain for listeners what The Chorus Of The Forest was, and how you were able to put this together?
Angelica: It's a piece that I wrote last year, as part of a residency I was doing at the New York Botanical Garden. The New York Botanical Garden is a gorgeous and huge botanical garden here in the Bronx, and it is one of my favorite places in New York to visit. And they've had for the past few years, artists-in-residence, mostly in the visual arts. But this is the first time that they had a composer-in-residence. And when they approached me about this, they immediately said "We want you to write something for our forests and using voices." So the idea of it being site-specific and using a chorus was something that came from them. That was our kind of departure point. And, and it was a true luxury to be able to be in-residence there because I was able to go as often as I wanted, they gave me tours with horticulturists and a lot of resources from their education department.
And what struck me about the forest - besides its massive size - were all the little pockets that I found within it and how those soundscapes shifted depending on where I was. And I knew I wanted to do something that highlighted those cells. So I decided to put, I think we ended up having about 18 speakers throughout the forest. And it was with recorded sounds from - some from the actual forest itself, some from other forests around the world. I was very lucky to be put in touch with this author David Haskell, who has a gorgeous book called The Song of Trees. And he also does a lot of recordings of with technology that I can't even begin to to explain or even understand, but it's recordings from actually inside the trees themselves.
And I had this library from Haskell that was just a dream to work with. And so I combined some of my own library of sounds with those sounds and we had those in speakers throughout the forest and then we had around a hundred voices spread out in the forest. And I also collaborated with an instrument builder that I've been working with for a long time, actually. Nick Yulman: he's a Brooklyn-based instrument maker and he designed a lot of the instruments that I use for the piece that you were mentioning before that I wrote for percussion - "Gone". So Nick designed some instruments for The Chorus Of The Forest that uses reclaimed wood as well. And then it was all about this idea of bringing the forest to life and providing an experience for the listener that was immersive, but that also heightened their awareness of the sounds around them so that when they left "the piece", they would still feel like it was still going on and they would listen to the sounds around them in a different way.
So it was an interesting challenge to create something that was modular - because some people started at a different spot in the forest than others. So the piece had to be built in a way in which maybe the beginning was the end for someone, so it had to work in a modular way. And [it was] also an interesting challenge for me to activate, such a massive space in a way that people felt like they were immersed in an experience, but also felt that they were experiencing different sides of the forest and different narratives that all connected. But to keep them engaged for an experience of an hour.
Darwin: So for this, when you said - I don't remember the exact number you said, but it sounded like you said like a hundred voices? Are you talking about people singing in the forest?
Angelica: Yes. So a hundred people singing in the forest and yeah, it was something pretty special and we're hoping to do it again this year. And, we worked with four different choral ensembles from professional ensembles to some community ensembles, like the Sendak High School Choir. They're a fantastic group of high school students that are excellent singers. I organized it in four different choral modules - I call them. And each one was between 10 and 20 singers, except for one, which was kind of the hub of the piece, which was over a bridge that overlooks the Bronx River, in which the river is actually another instrument itself. And over the bridge we had 60 singers.
Darwin: Oh my goodness. And then these instruments that you had built, what kind of instruments were they? Were they like stringed instruments, bowed instruments, wind instruments, or percussion? What kind of instruments did you have built?
Angelica: So these were percussive instruments. We ended up calling them Arborealis and they were made out of wood and then they had wood blocks and also bells and chimes attached to them. And Nick created a mechanism so that I could program what I wanted them to play and they would play themselves. So it's essentially a mechanical percussion instrument, with different bell tones and also wood block sounds, and my idea was for it to just feel like some of them might be coming from the forest themselves, some simulating woodpeckers and kind of short sounds.
Darwin: This sounds fascinating. I want to learn more, but before we go there, I would like to know a little bit about your background - because one of the things I would say just from first of all, from looking at some of the material that you've done (and just from talking to you) it's really clear that you don't feel constrained by the world around you at all. In terms of being a composer, you have a very wide open and embracing perspective on what it means to be a composer, what your instruments can be and and how you present them. And I'm curious how you get to be that composer. And so I'm wondering what is your background, you know, what was your early musical influences? What were the things that then drew you into being the composer and the artists that you are today?
Angelica: Yeah, it's interesting that you mentioned that because I feel like it wasn't always that way, and it took me a long time to get to this place of feeling completely - or at least a lot more - free than it was before. But I started playing piano when I was about seven years old. And, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and Catalina, which is infamous (or famous, depending on how you look at it) for being the birthplace of reggaeton. I grew up playing piano and I wanted to play cello [but] they told me my hands were too small, so they gave me a violin. So I became a violinist and I played in orchestra, so I always loved music, but was like in the back of the second violins, just more interested really about what was going on with the cellos and violas and the brass section and the percussion then my playing skills in the violin.
But I had no idea that composers were alive. And that was even a possibility because I never played anything by someone living! I mean, if we were lucky, we got to play Debussy, maybe, so when I started my undergraduate, I knew that I loved music. I still didn't see myself as a concert violinist, but what I did was I really loved film as well. So I did two undergraduate degrees at the same time: I was studying film at the University of Puerto Rico, and I was continuing my violin studies in the conservatory because that didn't feel completely right for me being a violinist, but I didn't know there was another option. And I knew I loved music. So I just continued studying violin.
And I went, because I was in the university studying film, I started being in touch with a few friends, new friends that were part of the underground DIY scene in San Juan and started playing in bands. And so I was playing keyboards and exploring a little bit with electronics and keeping two separate lives: one in the conservatory playing an orchestra and the other one as a film student. Really most of my friends were in the university and I was playing shows with them and we were going to shows. I had this band that we, we were tasked with this really fun challenge of creating the music for a live film score of a silent German film called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The early 20th century German expressionist film.
And so I wrote the music for that and because my band happened to be a string quintet with a singer and that also did some live electronics. Then I ended up writing everything on a score. And I remember the viola player from that band, he was not really a great viola player, but he was a composer and he was like, "I know you're, you really don't like studying violin, why don't you study composition?" And I was like, "Is that a thing?" And he said, "Yes, there are three of us in the department, three guys - you can be the fourth, and be the first woman, too." And so that was my third year of violin studies and I switched to composition using as my portfolio that music that I had written for my band for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari live scoring thing.
And yeah, and everything just started to make sense a little bit; before that I was taking harp lessons, cello lessons, and I really, when I was teaching, I loved the harp and I still love the harp with all my heart, but I was spending more time in the soundboard of the harp recording with a tape recorder, and I remember I was playing a little bit with this software called Fruity Loops. It's super popular in Puerto Rico for making reggaeton, actually. And I discovered that I really didn't like the sounds that it came with, but I discovered that you could load your own samples. So I was recording things on a tape recorder and then loading those sounds into Fruity Loops and then creating ambient music with that. And so it was a time of a lot of exploration and being really playful and free because I just didn't know that was a craft that could be studied.
It was just coming from a very genuine place. What's interesting is that, once I started studying it, as great as it was to find some something finally that makes sense for me, it was also within the constraints of academia. So I felt like I had to write it in a certain way. And so I feel like I started losing a little bit of that playfulness in that exploration's side of me because I was more worried about what the score looked like or what could be interesting to talk about in a composition seminar. But that's been something that over the past, I would say, 13 years since I moved to New York, it's been a lot of undoing of that and trying to reconnect with that initial impulse to explore sound and to make music.
Darwin: Sure. So what brought you to New York then?
Angelica: I moved to New York to pursue a Master's at NYU and then decided to continue a Doctorate that is still ongoing. If that is still a thing. I feel like I'll be a forever ABD student. But once I write that dissertation, I will be finished. But yeah, it's on hiatus at the moment, just because I had to decide between writing music or words and it's always going to be music for me. And yeah, I decided to stay here. It just felt like a really perfect place for a composer to be. And I'm also really involved in education and there's really, really beautiful work being done here with young composers. And that's something that really feeds my art as well. And that is important to me to maintain. So it feels like a good place to be in though I dream of returning to Puerto Rico and starting something there with young composers as well.
Darwin: So what exactly is the challenge of working with young composers? I mean, quite frankly, I remember I was like 35 before I could even look in a mirror and say, "Oh, I'm a composer.", right? So to me, a kid that's able to stand up and say, "I'm a composer, I'm a young composer!" - I mean, that has gotta be an incredible barrier to leap already. What are some of the challenges or what are some of the opportunities that you find in working with composers that happen to be young?
Angelica: Well, it's interesting that you say that because I think that a lot of my passion for teaching young composers, it's precisely that. It is trying to dismantle this idea of the notion of what a composer is and empowering them to realize that if they're organizing sounds in a way that they are excited about, then they are composers. So, I work a lot with actually very young kids in a program, by the New York Philharmonic, called Very Young Composers.
So they start around eight. And this is something that I feel I feel really strongly about cause I always remember how when I was a young girl, I never got to play with sound. I got to play with colors and visual art materials and paintings and clay and textures. But in music it was all, there was always a right or wrong way.
It was all about technique and playing your skills and the violin and learning the repertoire. So there was never that playful side in school for me of exploring sounds themselves. And I honestly think that even if I didn't want to become a composer later, that it would have made me a better violinist and better musician and better human, to be honest. Cause there's a lot of transferable life skills that you acquire when you're dealing with so much ambiguity, and exploring the unknown, and collaborating with other people. So I really love working especially with really young kids because it's all, it just reminds me that everything is a possibility and that we get to do something that's pretty cool, which is play around with sounds. And sometimes, especially with commissions and deadlines, sometimes that is - at least for me - easy to forget and to reconnect to that playful side of it and to be excited again by the sound of a bow on a cymbal, and see their face when they hear that for the first time.
It's really, really exciting. And in terms of challenges, I would say that there is, well notation is a huge one for sure. I work with students for enough years to see them transition from me helping them scribe their ideas and then being completely liberated by not having to worry about notation because I'm taking care of that. It's all their ideas, but I'm scribing them. But I see them transition to when we want them to be more independent. How with notation their creativity tends to suffer because it's a really hard thing to do. And I think a lot of composers still, you know, at late stages of their career, they still struggle with this translating something that's inside your head to a paper to communicate to someone else. So imagine if you have just started studying music and don't have those rhythmic or pitch skills to translate that. It's really hard. So that's one of the main challenges that I encounter. I try to, as a mentor, guide them in a way that to give them as many tools as I can to document their ideas so that they're not limited by traditional notation and that they have ownership of the work that they're creating.
Darwin: That's really interesting. I was curious to know how extensively you got into notation or how much you allow them to get drawn into it or whatever because it does seem like with, if you're coming at this from the approach of like, "Let's experiment with sound...", if you're requiring specific kinds of notation, it could really quickly, become, you know... The introspection it takes to document your work can sometimes be something that makes it really frazzling to be free in terms of an interpretation. Right?
Angelica: Yeah. Because it requires a lot of advanced skills and technique. So it's definitely a challenge and a balancing thing. And in every class I feel fortunate that I'm in the program that I work for. It's mostly with students that are, it really is all about the children's idea. So we try our best not to compromise their ideas. And if as long as the ideas are coming from the child, it doesn't matter if they're not able to notate them, we can help them with that. As long as they're making the choices about orchestration, they're making the choices about pitches, rhythms - if they can tap it and sing it, then it's going on the page. So it's this idea of giving them a sense of empowerment but also a sense of ownership of their ideas.
And then also it's part of the challenge as they grow in the program to also find ways to give them the tools so they can - I don't want to say notate - but document their ideas and communicate that to musicians, too. And maybe that for a student that could be on a staff paper, for another one, maybe it's a graphic notation, maybe for another one, it's an audio voice memo that her mom sends me at 1:00 AM. And so it looks different ways. It's important for them to feel like they're all valid forms because we're really not trying to, you know, some of them might be composers, but it's rare. It's mostly just having given them a chance to experience composing, the same way that we experience visual arts when we're young and as something that can make you as an artist - and us as a human, more well-rounded.
Darwin: Sure. Now, in your background you talk about like having all of these different directions kind of come crashing together in terms of making you who you are. I love this idea of being a conservatory violinist while at the same time sort of like, back channeling your way into film school and being in bands and stuff. To me that seems like a really rich combination, but also one where each one of those camps would probably look funny at the other work that you're doing. Right?
Angelica: Yeah, that was a big struggle I would say in my life. And my friends that played with me, like my conservatory friends that played with me in orchestra, had no idea that I had a band, or some of them that I was studying film. I kept those things very separate and struggled a lot because in my brain they all make sense together and they all fed off each other, but fed from each other. But I never got a - especially when I was living in Puerto Rico - I never felt comfortable exploring, let's say something more pop (like I would do in my band) in a string quartet that I was writing, and it sounds a little bit funny for me to say that now with what I've been doing for the past 12 years, which is precisely that and embracing all sides of me as one. But at that moment I felt like I had to be very academic, very cerebral, and be a good student.
It's a weird thing when you're studying your craft. I guess you want to be a good steward and you want to be, you want to follow what your mentors are telling you. And that might not always be what feels right for you or the right path for you. And so it took me a a while to figure out that I could just really write the music that I wanted to listen to. Really. It's as simple as that. It sounds obvious for a composer, but it's a thing.
Darwin: When I've talked to other composers, there seems to be that kind of conflict - either a conflict, like you said, of the difference between being a performer and a composer or, especially people who find that their composition work ends up being very different from their performance work. There's a difficult gluing together of their soul that has to happen in order to make that happen. When did you feel like you were able to combine that: while you were in Puerto Rico? Or did that really come together for you once you moved to New York?
Angelica: I would say when I moved to New York, actually. In Puerto Rico, thinking about it now, how that I do that - to be young, but I was super busy cause I was doing full time in two different universities, like in university, like in conservatory full time, a student in both places, in two different majors. And I also kept myself really busy playing in bands and I was very good actually about putting things in different boxes and having separate lives. That was because I just didn't feel like it was okay for me to sahre my band music in my composition of class or with my mentors or my peers. But also I was also a young composer in the sense that I had just found out when I was like 19/20 that composting was a possibility.
So I would say that really clicked when I moved here, right after I finished my masters and while I was doing my masters, New Amsterdam records was starting. And so there was a lot of visibility and representation, of composers that were also in bands. And that was something actually that was celebrated. And so that was something that impacted me and I was like, "Gosh, I, that's what I've been doing for and trying to suppress for a long time!" I mean, it's cool now. So, so I remember that being something that was validating, but still I was studying a masters and I was, you know, put complete culture change, too, of moving from a tiny island to New York. I remember as soon as I finished my masters, I was commissioned to write this piece where I'm for a trio, Janus Trio, they're a Debussy trio.
And, I remember starting this piece that ended up being called Drawings For Meyoko. I started it like three or four times and I just didn't like what I was writing. And it was the first piece that I was writing for myself. I did not have to show it to any composition teachers or anything. I was just, I was writing it for myself, but the added pressure was that it was a commission they were going to record in an album. And, I remember starting it many times and then there was a moment that I was like, "It's due tomorrow. What can I do? This is clearly not working out." And I said, what happens if I, instead of opening finale or playing on the piano with my empty staff pages, what if I open Fruity Loops and load some samples and start playing around and - I composed that piece in one day.
And it was a big revealing moment of like... I just thought of it as if I was writing my ambient music or the music for my band Balún. I was just like, let me just not care about how this score is going to look. Let me just write something that I like because these are all instruments that I really love and I'm really excited about it. Then there's clearly a disconnect. Why can't I write something for them if I'm excited about it? It's not that I don't have ideas, it was something else that was kind of, that felt very constraining. And as soon as I did that, it was just incredibly liberating. And they recorded it. So I was also lucky to get a good recording of it and production with that as well, which felt right for that piece. So that gave me a lot of confidence of like - maybe this is actually something that there's something here. This sounds like everything is starting to make more sense. Like embracing all the different components of my identity. You know, as a Puerto Rican living in New York, as a violinist that plays in electronic pop bands and that loves ambient music. All those things don't have to be separate.
Darwin: And even as somebody who has fun playing Fruity Loops, I mean, you know that all of this stuff pulled together.
Angelica: Yeah, that's interesting because sometimes that was a big constraint too. It was like I had to make music in these certain ways that composers make me a sick. So it started, it started really with that piece and with Fruity Loops and it was a big moment for me and I think it was like when I found out about composing, I never looked back after that. It was the same when I started to be true to who I am as a composer. That I, it just doesn't make any sense for me to go back and write things that I'm not excited about.
Darwin: Right. Well that's a real powerful story though because in fact there is this sense that as we get more serious about our output, we're supposed to get more serious about our tools. We're supposed to get more serious about what our website looks like. We're supposed to get more serious about the equipment that we purchase. All of this stuff ends up getting wrapped up into some cultural mill you that doesn't really have anything to do with making a composition and instead has something to do with looking like a "capital C composer". Right?
Angelica: Yeah, definitely. And I think that's why I also continue teaching, as challenging as it's been over the past few years, to maintain that because it's a lot of work. I still like to, even if I'm just teaching one class, I still like to maintain that because it reminds me precisely of that. Off of just letting go and embracing the most genuine things and all the things that make up who I am. All the the quirky things, all the dark things. So like all of it could be really powerful if you're honest with yourself and combine it and put in your work.
Darwin: Sure. So now when you sit down to have fun in composing, what does that look like? I mean by some accounts, looking at that BricTV documentary, maybe it means going out and getting the right cauliflower, but I assume... I mean, do you still use Fruity Loops or have you found something else that's more fun for you - or do you just not care?
Angelica: Well, I use Ableton Live, and I've been using it for the past, I would say, 10 years. So I moved away from Fruity Loops and mostly because I was doing some film composing and I heard that you could load video on Ableton. So I started using Ableton for that. And then that's actually my main composing tool even if I'm writing a piece for orchestra, I'm always on Ableton - back and forth between Ableton and Finale, which is the notation software I use. But yeah, I love, especially when I'm starting any project, I'm starting with collecting sounds and creating a sound library for that specific project. And I'm going outside, and in my kitchen, I always find more and more things. And even the same wok, maybe with a different mallets or [a] different thing to hit it sounds completely different.
So I'm, I'm always trying to find new ways of recording objects that are familiar to me and finding new objects as well. And I also, if I'm working with different technology - like Nick's instruments for example - I love setting them up and playing around with them. Nick builds these really cool instruments called Surface Poppers, it has a little cylinder that goes up and down and you can program rhythms (MIDI) through it. Actually that's the same technology that we use for Chorus Of The Forest instruments. And with those Surface Poppers, anything that you put on top of that, it hits it and the rhythms that you program, through MIDI, and I can play with different surfaces. I can play with putting marbles inside of different objects and moving the object a little bit, playing with the dynamic and the attack and all of those things create variations in sound. I really like this, exploratory, playful, beginning the project, starting from scratch and playing around with the technology, with the tools, with the objects, with the sounds and seeing how can they morph and often give identity to a new piece.
Darwin: Right. Well, and the other thing I love is again, you're not bound to the normal way that things are supposed to sound or be played. I mean, in that film, the way that you would manipulate the chimes or the way you'd manipulate a music box, you clearly don't mind manipulating things manually in order to get the sound you want. I wonder how is it that that gets translated to performance? Because one of the things is you've been commissioned by a lot of different people to do work for them. How do you take something that might be really an idiosyncratic way that you touch or bang on or rub or scrape an item? How do you transmit that to somebody who is going to perform this?
Angelica: So, a great question. I feel like a lot of my work has to do with answering that question. And so another part of the exploration is also the question of how to translate the performance of electronic music live. And a lot of these sounds sometimes are performing live and and there's a percussionist that is doing those specific actions, live in a performance as I would when I'm playing in my studio. But a lot of the times they're recorded and maybe maybe there's a plant leaf or a cauliflower or a turnip that I touched that then triggers the sound of the little noise from my music box. So I'm really interested in finding like different layers and different ways of, I don't want to say confuse the listener, but, but first make the performance of electronic music more visible and visceral the same way that when you see a string quartet, you see and feel in your gut that bow on the string.
I'm always searching for it. This, this same feeling in electronic music and the performance of it. And for me, live processing was never enough for that. I wanted to see the action behind the sound, which is why I love working with Nick's instruments. They're really kind of rudimentary mechanical percussion in which everything is very visible and things can go wrong, objects can fall. I want electronic music to feel alive. So it's different for every piece. Sometimes it's in prerecorded electronic, sometimes it's an electronics that are played live, by either a sampling pad or a veggie synth. I wrote a piece for the New York Philharmonic biennial, for a chamber ensemble, with musicians from the Phil a few years ago. And I had the percussionist play a synth that was made up of fruits and that's a kind of different instrument to learn how to play.
And also, like, the Apple could fall and you have to touch it in a certain way. And it's some, I'm always looking for ways of making it more playful, more alive, more inviting for the audience. Because I, at the end of the concerts, a lot of people come to check on the instrument just because they're curious and they might be interested in, I've had people that then have emailed me afterwards or colleagues that have emailed me later, like pictures of their kids. Like, "Oh, I got this MakeyMakey kit for my kid." And, because they saw you play with your plants or your vegetables and... that's really what I'm after is this idea that a lot of the times when I went to perform some electronic music, it felt a little bit... I felt a distance and I want to create the opposite experience that it feels like you're drawn to the sounds, maybe because of the visuals, but then you're so immersed that then you're in it for the sounds themselves.
So finding creative ways to approach that and to invite people in. It's a lot of what I think every piece that I write searches for.
Darwin: Well, unfortunately we are out of time. I can't believe it. I have literally a whole page of questions more that I would wish to ask. But before we let you go, what do you have cooking right now? What some of the new work that you're working on that people might be able to see or hear soon?
Angelica: So, I just got commissioned by the LA Philharmonic to write a new piece for the orchestra that's going to be premiered in November. So I'm incredibly thrilled about that and terrified as with all exciting projects. So I'm writing a piece for the LA Phil that's going to be performed alongside the symphonic dances from West Side Story, which is a piece that, as a Puerto Rican, I have many feelings about - good, bad and complicated. So I'm sure the piece that I believe I'll be writing for them will reflect some of that. And I'm also, I just finished working on the music for a documentary about life in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria. And I'm really excited about that work. And that's going to be premiered at Tribeca Film Festival here in New York in April. And yeah, a lot of other orchestral commissions, one for the Dallas Symphony and the National Symphony. And so for orchestra and organ and some chamber and some choral works. I'm doing a residency with the San Francisco Girls Chorus. They're an incredible group of young girls singers - and working with Brooklyn Youth Chorus, too. Just trying to keep busy and and survive and enjoy the ride.
Darwin: Well, that sounds like a heck of a attempt at survival! It sounds amazing. Congratulations on all these opportunities. Well, with that, I'm going to let you have the rest of your day. Thank you so much again for making the time to have this discussion.
Angelica: My pleasure. Thank you!
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