“I Intend To Put The Audience Through An Auditory Roller Coaster:” An Interview with Theo Metz

David Johnston


2012 Composer-in-Residence Theo Metz


We come to the end of our 2012 Composer-in-Residence interview series with Theo Metz. Theo shares about his metal beginnings, collaborations with international artists, new album Replicant and thoughts on being a Queens musician.

When did you start composing? How would you describe your early works compared to today?

I started composing while studying classical percussion at William Paterson University. Growing up, I listened to a lot of metal – attracted to the “aggressive” sound and attitude. My first compositions reflect that. At that time, I was writing for the instrumental trio, Nice Daughter. With two drum sets, vibraphones, and glockenspiel, we started playing around venues in NYC. The trio was well received and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I moved to attend graduate school and the ensemble dissipated, but it was priceless in my initiation to composition. Now my compositions are more thought-out and structured. Just like anything you work at, you get better over time. There is simply more craft now.

In both your performances and compositions, you’ve been involved with a diverse range of musical styles – from experimental/rock and alternative to classical, global and film. How did you become so well-versed in these genres?

I’ve always listened to and analyzed many musical styles. As I acclimate myself to these genres, I apply the most influential elements to my artistic palette. I have a Bachelor of Music in classical percussion, a Master of Music in studio composition – studies which have expanded my understanding  of music. I’ve always believed being versatile keeps you well-rounded and open to new ideas. It leads to more work and creativity.

You’re a member of several ensembles, including Wires.Under.Tension., an experimental rock duo with multi-instrumentalist Christopher Tignor. Congrats on your latest album Replicant. Could you describe your work with Mr. Tignor, as well as the album?

I’ve been working with Christopher for seven years now on multiple projects. He’s an excellent musician, composer and one of my best friends. We started working years ago when I was playing drums for his project called Slow Six. Since then, I’ve been playing drums, mallet percussion, and electronics with him live and in the studio. We’ve recorded three albums together where we either collaborate fully, or I write percussion arrangements for his compositions. Our most recent album Replicant focused a lot on the blending of acoustic and synthetic timbres with rich orchestration. Every track is significantly different in sound, arrangement, and attitude. This is something that I think will appeal to listeners more because every track evokes a new emotion and changes how they relate to the music on a personal level.

You’ve collaborated with several international artists, including renowned Chinese opera star Qian Yi and Carnatic vocalist and musician Dr. T.V.Gopalakrishnan. What was the collaborative process like with each artist?

Both were extremely different. When I worked with Qian Yi I was playing a traditional Chinese instrument called a ban. It’s a very simple instrument in construction, yet it requires a lot of technique and practice. To get a better grasp, I took lessons with a man who was trained from his youth. And eventually I was able to play it for a traditional aria Qian Yi was performing at the Times Square Center. In addition, I also had to learn how to read a new style of notation, a modern notation for traditional Chinese works. It looks nothing like western notation.

When I worked with Dr. T.V.Gopalakrishnan (T.V.G.), I was studying at his school in India. Indian music is taught completely aurally and involves a lot of memorization. Instead of me learning a traditional Indian instrument, T.V.G. wanted me to interpret some traditional Carnatic (South Indian) works on drumset for a later performance at the Alys Stephens Center in Alabama later that year. I listened to a couple field recordings of the pieces everyday to completely memorize the piece for performance.

Both were humbling experiences… which have definitely influenced my perception of both composition and performance. I’m lucky enough to graze the surface of multiple culture’s traditional music on a first hand basis.

You’ve performed all over the world. What were some of your favorite places to perform? How does New York City compare or differ?

My memories from performing aren’t necessarily about the venue, the sound, or the performance but rather the events leading up and after these performances. Who I met, what I did, who I was with, what I saw or ate that day. These are the memories that I associate with where I play. I had a lot of memorable experiences during Wires.Under.Tension’s tour through Europe in October 2011. The people we met were so honest and caring. I have so many stories of people just being awesome while we were there. I will never forget how the audience always respected our performance and displayed etiquette similar to a classical performance, though we were playing experimental rock music in bars mostly.

That being said, nothing compares to the NYC music scene. I’ve performed in the Lincoln Center, Asia Society, Times Square Center, illegal lofts, bars, apartments, Merkin Hall, multiple city universities, parks, lobbys, rooftops and more. This is what NYC and it’s music scene is about: rich in culture, diverse in genres, venues of high and low caliber, people from all walks of life coming to hear it, and an amazing amount of competition amongst musicians to be the ones heard. That is every night in this city.

Recently, you’ve been focusing on your electro-acoustic interests, including creating your own set of electronics and microphones for percussion instruments. Could you describe your creations?

I’m always interested in making sounds that haven’t been heard before. Basically I’m using piezo discs – small transducers that convert acoustic sound into electrical signal and soldering certain cables and making contact microphones. From there, I’m placing them on certain spots of my drum set. When I play my kit, the vibration in the contact microphone sends signal to a mixer, and then through a series of effects. I’m just making my acoustic drum set into an electro-acoustic drum set and expanding my sound pallet. It’s a fun, limitless way to get new sounds.

You’re a proud resident of Queens. What makes Queens special, especially as a musician?

What makes Queens special as a musician is the fact that it has almost no music scene. Queens may not have many popular music venues but it is extremely rich in culture, tradition, and diversity. There is no pressure here to be innovative or creative, except from myself and I have room to let these things come naturally.

What is next for you?

I recently bought an old vibraphone that I’ve been restoring. Once completed, I intend to write a set for vibes and electronics. I can’t even begin to express how excited I am about it. I can guarantee the vibes will make their way into my concert for this residency. Other than that, I intend to continue teaching at William Paterson University and composing an album of electro-acoustic compositions.


Now that our residencies have officially come to a close, stay tuned for composers’ upcoming public events starting January 2013!


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