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Artists In Their Own Words: Ray Evanoff

Who: Ray Evanoff

What: Composer

Where: Lower Garden District

Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: CC’s on Magazine

Q: What’s something from your past that you never thought would influence you but has?

A: I’m from western Pennsylvania, and I grew up playing football and wrestling. I went through a period in my life where I started to look down on that and say, ‘I’m going to be an artist. Or a philosopher.’

It was when I was in grad school that I realized how integral that part of my life was to who I am. Before I was possibly short-selling or overlooking that. A lot of my music deals with physical virtuosity and mental virtuosity, and that definitely connects with athletics.

Our appreciation for athletics, and particularly the phenomenal moments of athletics, are virtuosic. Athletics are so prevalent in our life that we can often take for granted the special role that that they play. How many things in our society are given such a front and center role even though they’re not pragmatic?

Making the connection to my background made me realize how highly relevant it is to me and to my artistic work.

Plus, every time I drive pass the Superdome – a half a billion dollar structure in the central part of the city – that gives me hope that there will one day be a half a billion dollar music complex in cities across the country. It’s worth dreaming about, anyway.

Q: What do you like to push yourself on, and what do you not like to push yourself on?

A: I would say that at this point I’m begrudgingly comfortable with challenging myself intellectually, in the broadest sense of the word. The reason I’m into composing for the long haul is because it’s so challenging. It’s a really hard thing to do that I’m actually naturally bad at, but I’ve educated myself so I don’t totally suck.

Something I’m not comfortable pushing myself on is that I’m extremely schedule-oriented, to a fault. Even us meeting, I had to have us meet at 3:30 because I take a nap – even if I’m not tired – at 1:30 every day. The fact that I’ve left my house may cause me not to work for the rest of the night. There’s no plausible justification, but anything that gets me out of my rhythm throws other things off.

Q: What’s something that leads you to intellectual paralysis?

A: There’s definitely a thing where when I’m writing and it’s going well I have to stop. Maybe in part because I consider myself to be a naturally rather awkward composer in terms of how I operate. I’m a slow mover in a certain kind of way. Not talking-wise or thinking-wise, though.

There are times when I’m writing and I just have to stop. It’s the opposite from hitting a wall. This is a very romantic way of putting it, which makes me a bit hesitant to say it, but you sense the possibility, and me being the regimented individual that needs a controlled environment, when the floor opens up underneath me it makes me rather apprehensive. Sometimes I have to back away.

I mean, writing for prepared piano is somewhat of a nightmare for me because I have to define the situation. If I take the clarinet, I can study the object – its flaws, quirks, limitations – and that is where I start. That’s a situation of limitations that I can create out of. With the prepared piano, it’s an infinite situation. You have eighty-eight keys. You think about how many preparations you can do for each key. I mean I can get up to the ninth partial on fifty-five keys. That’s when the floor opens up.

Q: What’s something humans are not capable of thinking themselves into?

A: The first thing that comes to mind – actually, this is a way for me to stall while I think of a better answer– is the artist Anthony Braxton. His definition of creativity, at least what it was in the eighties, is ‘thinking the highest thought you can think.’

That compounds on itself. It’s Zeno’s Paradox. You can always halve something, you can always go further. You can always think the highest thought you can think, and then you reach a point where that becomes a foundation for the next highest thought. So, I really can’t think of anything that humans can’t think themselves into.

Then it just becomes a question of pragmatics – whether civilization collapses before we make it there. I mean, Braxton talks about music for multiple planets. Talk about thinking the highest thought you can think.

Q: If you had to use a map as a graphic score, which map would you use?

A: It would definitely be black and white. One thing I think of is the Situationists, a French-Socialist-co-opt-the-system organization from the sixties. They came up with this idea of dérive, where they encouraged people to have these excursions around Paris in which instead of taking a map they would make a map as they went. The idea was that a map is just a document of a space, and we only document a space insofar as we understand it.

Conventional maps document a location and place using physical parameters, but there are other parameters we can understand a place through. We can think of the places we occupy in non-physical ways. We define the space that we are in.

I’ve never really seen these maps, but I’m guessing there’s a pretty amazing map from those. Because if I give you just a map of a place it will bring up certain associations – like if you give me a map of Philadelphia I’ll just start thinking about how I hate Philadelphia. These other maps are somewhat value-neutral, and that’s part of what makes a good score.

If you can stave off suppositions then you’re in a good spot.


Ray Evanoff, the Louis Moreau Institute composer competition winner, will have his piece, Interpolations Hewn from a Choice Machine, played on Friday, February 26th at the Marigny Opera House with the Louis Moreau Institute, Program 1. You can find out more details about the event here, and if you would like to hear and see more of Ray Evanoff’s work, then you can visit his website.




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