BEARTHOVEN // SCOTT WOLLSCHLEGER
American Dream, Bearthoven’s sophomore release, is a reflection of the contemporary American state of mind. Rather than making a political statement, this album reflects the paradoxical nature of the ‘American Dream’ in our current era. Consisting of three monumental new works by Scott Wollschleger, American Dream is available now on Cantaloupe Music.
‘A stunning work that creeps up on the listener over time and doesn’t let go.’ - Peter Margasak
‘Riveting, not only for the seemingly definitive readings pianist Karl Larson, double bassist Pat Swoboda, and percussionist Matt Evans give the three settings but also for the material's thematic resonance.’ - Textura
GAS STATION CANON SONG
Scott Wollschleger grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania where he says, “The gas station is a more common object than the Mona Lisa. Where I came from, it would be fake for me to claim the beautiful art history of Europe as my own.” Although he has since moved away, Wollschleger often drives across the state when he goes back to visit family. On one particularly long drive, Wollschleger says:
I stopped in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and the gas station was on this hill. It was dusk, and it was gorgeous. I went into the bathroom and I had a moment where I thought, “is this beautiful?” There was graffiti on the wall, and there were blue tiles, and the light was coming in from dusk, and there was a feeling of dew. In that moment I thought, “Can something so abject also be an object of beauty?” It was almost an exercise in affirmation. The light itself was beautiful, but it was also beautiful because it was existing in that moment. The fact that I stumbled upon it and felt serenity in that space was beautiful. But then it became a mantra about being inspired by one’s immediate surroundings, which is important for artists wherever they are.
Gas Station Canon Song is about reclaiming everyday spaces—such as parking lots and convenience stores—as places of beauty and art. Instead of reserving the designation of “Art” to places that are elsewhere, Wollschleger wrote this work as an anthem for people making art where they are, with objects in their daily lives.
– Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
Driving on the interstate, one stops at gas stations, a state fair, a sleazy motel. The memory of these places blend together—commercial rest stops that look the same connect places, blurring time. Trying to make sense of the many impressions and places, one creates a narrative from these fading images.
Similarly, Wollschleger describes American Dream as an “abstract musical landscape of fragmented songs.” He emphasizes:
There was an urgency in the creation of the piece, spawned from my reflection on the state of the world and what I felt was a crisis happening in the country. I was able to get out of this sense of despair through writing the piece. The process changed me: as it went on it became less about the crisis I was sensing, and more about abstract sound and pattern. I composed blocks of musical time and wove them together in a discontinuous way. Knowing I was writing it for Bearthoven—who are able to jump between these different grooves to create a shock between competing ideas—allowed me to write in this way… Part of my aesthetic is acknowledging our experience in the world. This discontinuous experience of the world is where the piece comes from.
Karl Larson (piano) elaborates:
American Dream is comprised of a number of ‘broken songs,’ including fragments from Gas Station Canon Song and We See Things That Are Not There. Scott breaks up the pure iterations of these songs and twists them into a more complex, wrought soundscape. This idea really gets to the essence of his style, I think. The juxtaposition of the beautiful and the grotesque / the lofty and the banal is a major theme in much of his music.
Our lives are filled with familiar sounds we learn to ignore. Wollschleger’s American Dream brings these sounds to the forefront: the white noise from a television set being turned on at 3AM, the faint sound of a carnival, the buzzing ecstasy of 20 vibrators (the final gesture of the work). Wollschleger makes other subtle references to pop culture through musical inside jokes, pointing out:
At the beginning of the piece, the meters alternate between 7/4 and 11/4, a hidden nod to the famed convenience store chain 7-Eleven. A lot of American Dream is about ambiguous states—happy, sad, really goofy, really abject—and the oscillation between these seemingly contradictory feelings. This is my American Dream.
Pat Swoboda (bass) adds:
Of course your thoughts about the American Dream are always a reflection of yourself. There are those that do believe in a materialist version of that dream—the idea of ownership as fulfillment or success. Some people might think that it’s obscene, and to another person it might be the most beautiful thing they’ve ever heard—American Dream reflects these differences in perception.
As the American Dream evolves with time, it becomes a combination of all our individual, potentially conflicting narratives. Can these come together to create one “dream” or do they break down through this incongruity?
– Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
WE SEE THINGS THAT ARE NOT THERE
“We always see things that are not there. That is profoundly sad, but it’s also profoundly hopeful too, because it could mean ‘are not there yet’.… It’s hard to be in that place of uncertainty, so fear is the armor we wear,” says Wollschleger.
As with many of Wollschleger’s duos, We See Things That Are Not There is about how two people are never able to fully see each other. The piece begins with the pianist and percussionist playing the same line in unison. After this first phrase, they try to connect through their shared memory. However, the more they try to communicate, the more things drift apart. They begin to stutter, unable to recall what they were originally trying to say. Wollschleger continues, “The memory of the opening line decoheres, and the process of trying to remember becomes more important than the thing they were trying to remember in the first place.“
Matt Evans (percussion) comments on Wollschleger’s music:
To him, everything is kind of a memory, and everything is imperfect, but also potentially more beautiful. He’s fascinated by the erosion of facts and thoughts, and the weird little holes that get poked in things as they move through time.
Is it a love song? A mis-remembered nostalgic anthem? A quiet, hopeful fanfare? A frightened obsessive meandering? In allowing ourselves to be truly vulnerable we can connect with each other, even if only for a moment. Or perhaps we see things that are not there.
– Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980)’s music has been highly praised for its arresting timbres and conceptual originality. Wollschleger “has become a formidable, individual presence” (The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross) in the contemporary musical landscape. His distinct musical language explores themes of art in dystopia, the conceptualization of silence, synesthesia, and creative repetition in form and has been described as “apocalyptic,” “distinctive and magnetic,” possessing a “hushed, cryptic beauty,” (The New Yorker, Alex Ross) and as “evocative” and “kaleidoscopic” (The New York Times).
Wollschleger’s concert works can be heard across the US and the world, most recently featured at NOW! Festival in Graz Austria, MATA Festival Interval Series, and the Festival of New American Music in Sacramento. His critically acclaimed piano concerto, Meditation on Dust, was recently performed by pianist Karl Larson at the Bang on a Can Festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. His apocalyptic monodrama, We Have Taken and Eaten, was featured on NPR’s Arts & Letters. Upcoming and recent projects include commissions from andplay, Bearthoven, violist Anne Lanzilotti, Metropolis Ensemble with violinist Rachel Lee Priday in collaboration with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, and Third Angle Music. His debut album, Soft Aberration, was released on New Focus Recordings in 2017 and was named a Notable Recording of 2017 in The New Yorker.
Following lightly in the footsteps of the New York School, Wollschleger received his Masters of Musc in composition from Manhattan School of Music in 2005, where he studied with Nils Vigeland. Wollschleger was a Co-Artistic Director of Red Light New Music, a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and crafting contemporary music. In addition to his musical ideas, he frequently delves into the philosophical writings of Deleuze, Nietzsche, and Brecht and maintains an ongoing collaboration with Deleuzian scholar Corry Shores. Their recently co-authored thesis, Rhythm Without Time, was successfully presented at the London Graduate School’s academic conference, “Rhythm and Event.” Wollschleger’s work is published by Project Schott New York.