Chris Heslop is an amazing composer, a fantastic musician, and all around good guy. He has a way with the licorice stick. And I heard he puts on pink underwear when he wants to show off. He might be a little bit goofy. Whatever. Things are a lot more fun when he’s around. Folks, I
give you the amazing Chris Heslop.
Sue: Chris, how did we meet?
Chris: We met at the institute (Yocum Institute) when you came to see my jazz/poetry project with Brian Wong. We were destined to meet a few days later anyway for something with RTP.
Sue: That was a real coincidence that I knew you through two different people. What was the first thing we worked on at RTP?
Chris: I was trying to think of that. Was it Speakeasy? Seems like we may have done something smaller before that.
Sue: Was One Body before Speakeasy? We actually played music together on that one. Fun times. Very vaginal that show, I think you’ll agree. Speakeasy was quite tame compared to that one. I still sing the Socialists song from Speakeasy, by the way.
Chris: Oh yes, I believe that was before Speakeasy. One Body was really fun…a bit easier for me because they were short pieces which did not necessarily have to relate to each other. I also enjoyed it because I got to work with each of you individually.
Sue: I’m always amazed
at how you seem to pull music out of your hat when called upon to do so. How does one train for that type of genius?
Chris: Thank you for the compliment. I have always loved composing and I treat it like any other instrument I play in that it has to be practiced. Practicing composing is really just using all your learned musical skills and theory to develop and manipulate ideas. I come up with a germ of an idea for these projects and think about them as I go through my daily life. The ideas roll around in my head and I eventually write them down and further tweak them until I am satisfied. Deadlines are also very helpful.
Sue: Speaking of deadlines, you just made it through writing an opera (Da Ponte) that was originally over two hours long. If I remember correctly, it was a grueling process for you. How do you make it through? (ink, Seville, and Tokay?)
Chris: Writing Da Ponte did involve some agony for a number of reasons, but in the end I was elated with how it turned out. I was concerned about the flow since it is over twice as long as anything I had ever composed before and it was challenging to edit and make certain decisions because it took so long just to page through the score, let alone actually read or listen to it all the way through.
Coming up with the musical ideas was not so difficult for me but the physical act of setting the text took a long time. Every
syllable must be dealt with and the process can be painstaking. A single typed page of text took me between one and two days to set to music. As for the ink, Seville, and Tokay: none of the above (sorry, that’s very boring). I do my best work first thing in the morning, with the most potent drug being green tea. I don’t use Seville or any other tobacco, except for a cigar once or twice a year. I only resorted to ink at the very end when I printed the scores for the singers and musicians. It all existed on my computer and about seven different back up sources. It must be all over the world by now. Perhaps a Bollywood company will pick it up.
Sue: That would make my world complete if Bollywood would pick up DaPonte. So what do you like better: composing or performing?
Chris: I like composing better than performing, probably because I practice composing more than playing. I love to perform, but I see it more as away to get my compositions performed and also for creative idea generation.
I also love to see the different interpretations performers come up with for my compositions. Some of what I write is very precise, while other things I intentionally provided a lot of leeway to the performers for their personal input.
Sue: What kind of opportunities for composing do you get?
Chris: I get more arranging work than composing. However, I have been commissioned to compose music for about 10 plays as well as a few compositions for jazz orchestra. I have also composed for a puppet show and several audio books. There is talk of a couple more operas in my future as well (I have already composed two).
I have composed quite a bit for Reading Theater Project, which as you know is close to my heart. I believe “A Perfect You” is my first film, but I hope it is not my last (hint, hint).
Sue: Don’t you worry your pretty little head. We’ve got stuff up our sleeve that has your name on it and I’m not talking underarm hairball. Meantime tell me what you think is the best movie music ever. I mean, besides the Star Wars sound track, of course.
Chris: Best movie music ever? I will shoot myself in the foot here and say 2001: A Space Odyssey. Part of the artistry of its soundtrack is Kubrick’s genius in choosing the music: solid music by great composers. Plus, I am a huge Ligeti fan. It might be disappointing that I chose a soundtrack that is just pieced together with existing compositions, but a lot of the “original” movie music is predominantly “borrowed” from the classics anyway (those are “air-quotes,” by-the-way).
One more thing: If you ask me this same question ten more times, you will probably get ten different answ
ers (not that I want you to).
Sue: 2001 is a great answer. It’s not so much the source of the music but how it’s put with the film that is important. Music is really important in that movie. There’s very little dialog, no narration. The music has to tell the story more than in other films. Great choice!!
Okay, Ligeti. Born in Transylvania. What’s not to love? Anyway, let’s talk about modern composers. Who do you study, emulate, steal from?
Chris: I ebb and flow when it comes to what I listen to. Lately I’ve been more interested in the older masters such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc. However, I have gone through phases of Ligeti, Ives, St
ravinsky, Cage, Schnittke (I love his opera writing), Messiaen, Crumb, as well. Or I will get specific and only listen to composers such as Bartók, one of my all time favorites. I think the culmination of what we listen to creates who we are as artists. I love the strict harmonic functionality of the earlier composers, but also the colors and techniques of the more modern composers. I can appreciate the repetitive nature of some, yet I also love to approach music by breaking it down to its simplest elements: “sound and time.” Study/emulate/steal….take your pick. Every artists does all three, although these terms can all be “interpreted” (there are those “air-quotes” again).
Sue: Crumb? Robert? This is great: “I think the culmination of what we listen to creates who we are as artists.” I think it’s hilarious that Bartok is one of your favorites (another Hungarian like Ligeti). I’m studying Bartok right now. Not because I like him, but because I’m trying to figure him out. It only makes sense that he’s one of your faves.
Chris: Ha! George Crumb, but I really like R. Crumb too. Have you seen the documentary? Of course you have. Why are you studying Bartók? Check out his string quartets…particularly #5 (or maybe it’s 6). It’s the heavy metal of string quartets.
Sue: I love the videos of #5. So intense. Think I’ll go take a look right now. Anything else you want to say before we wrap this up? Like how fantastic it is working with me or something like that?
Chris: It is otherworldly working with you, Sue. Seriously, it is like you are on another planet.
Sue: Thanks, Chris. This is Sue Lange signing off from planet XKJ910 in the Magellanic Cloud Galaxy.