“When the Tape Runs Out:” An Interview with Ron Tucker

David Johnston

2011 Composer-in-Residence Ron Tucker

Our 2011-12 Composer-in-Residence interviews come to a close with Ron Tucker. In this last installment, Ron talks about his journey to NYC, the continual search for new sounds and resonant material (including combing parts of Brooklyn for metal), musical inspirations, his beautiful new EP and his interest in scoring for old films.

We extend a special thanks to each of our eight composers for providing us with wonderful e-chats, and for taking time out of busy schedules to share with us. Now that most of the Con Edison Residencies come to a close this month, be on the lookout for new blogs on composers’ upcoming free public programs!

For the past two decades, you’ve crisscrossed the country performing in numerous bands and ensembles.  What led you to eventually settle in New York City?

I grew up in rural Ohio in a small country town and always wanted to live in a big city.  After completing my music degree at Bowling Green State University, my plan was to relocate to New York or Chicago.  But after college I was offered a teaching job and a regular performing gig in Cleveland, so I ended up there instead.  Over the next several years, I often toured and attended shows in NYC and was hooked.  I realized that I needed and wanted to move there to be part of the city’s incredible new music scene.  Although I was part of an indie electro rock ensemble in Cleveland, I was composing avant-chamber percussion music on my own and wanted to be amidst like-minded composers and performers.

What’s special about being a composer in NYC? Are there any challenges?

Special:

…Opportunity

…To connect with like-minded artists

…To see amazing performance by top-notch musicians

…To experience a wide variety of music, art and theater that influences my work

Challenges:

Space, time and money.

You’ve performed with a wide variety of bands and ensembles, including rock, electronic, experimental, jazz, chamber and country. The music you compose seems quite different in style. Who or what are your influences?

In college I studied the work of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and was captivated by their minimalist compositional style.  I later became a fan of Arvo Pärt as well.  But my initial post-college musical compositions were, as you noted, for various indie, electronic, experimental and other left of center rock groups, including Infinite Number of Sounds.

Then while living in Cleveland in the late 1990’s I attended a performance by Joe Maneri.  It may sound strange, but that performance was a turning point for me – it made me realize that I wanted to compose that kind of work myself.  And it inspired me to explore the new music genre and discover groups like The Clogs, Bell Orchestre, Rachel’s, Town & Country, Colleen, Amiina, etc. – as well as to begin writing my own avant-chamber pieces for mallet percussion with Trepanning Trio.

You founded percussion group ensemble, et al. as a vehicle for your own compositions and collaboration with other percussionists. What is your collaborative process like? And is collaboration integral to your compositional process?

By the time I founded ensemble, et al., I had been writing chamber percussion music for a few years as a side project, so I wouldn’t say that collaboration is *integral* to my composition process.  But collaborating with the other members of the group does help me to fully flesh out ideas or take a piece in a new direction.  The collaborative process usually entails me bringing various rhythmic or harmonic motifs to the table and having other ensemble members add their own ideas or help with transitions or form.  That said, some compositions are fully formed when I bring them to the group and require no group work.  There’s a lot of ebb and flow to the process of playing together – depending on how personal a musical idea is to me, collaboration may or may not be appropriate or necessary.  The process sometimes works in the reverse as well – that is, other ensemble members sometimes bring an idea or piece to the table for me to expand upon.

Congratulations on your gorgeous debut album “When the Tape Runs Out.”  How did you come up with the title? And what’s the album about?

Thanks!  I like the old-school imagery of a cassette tape as the vehicle for listening to music and had long had a photo of a cassette tape (with the tape coming out) on my MySpace page.  When it came time to name the album, that imagery was in my head.  The idea of the tape “running out” came from the similar name of a (now defunct) indie rock band that one of my good friends once belonged to.  With his permission, I merged the cassette tape imagery with the band’s name.  The album is the product of my varied musical background and is influenced by both contemporary classical music and my experiences with indie and electro rock bands.  There is no specific theme to the EP, but it represents my breaking free of pre-defined genres and merging my musical influences to create something unique.

You’re always on the lookout for new sounds and unusual media to perform on such as glass, wood or metal. What are some of your recent new finds?

Recently I have been scouring the Rubin Museum and The Music Inn in the Village for all of their Indian Cowbells, Tibetan Bowls and other resonant metal objects.  A random piece of metal found on the sidewalk in an industrial part of Brooklyn was another great find!

Another interest of yours is to compose for old or independent film clips. What qualities do you look for in a film?

I am drawn to nostalgic imagery, innocence, simplicity and a bit of melancholy in the films I choose to compose for.  I chose The Red Balloon, for example, because it has a very introspective melancholy and innocence that I connect with personally and musically.

Now that you’ve started your Con Edison Residency at Church Street School for Music and Art, what do you hope to accomplish?

I hope to get a good start composing my own soundtrack for the 1956 French film, The Red Balloon.  I’m finding the process of writing for film much more difficult than I had expected.  Integrating software into the process has slowed me down a little bit.

I have also been working on quite a few new compositions incorporating unusual elements (found metal objects) that I hope to unveil at my residency program performance sometime in 2012.

Any thoughts for what’s next?

Up to this point, I have primarily composed music for percussion.  I’d like to begin integrating woodwind and string arrangements into my mostly percussion-centric compositions.  I’d also like to explore composing for larger mixed ensembles.

As for the not-so-distant future with ensemble, et al., I plan to record and release a follow up to “When the Tape Runs Out” with wider distribution.  A small tour of the Midwest in the spring of 2012 is in the works, in addition to continuing to perform around the city at unique venues.

In a Crowded Room with Nothing to Think About from ensemble, et al. on Vimeo.

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