Katherine Young and Erica Dicker
By Edward Breitweiser
November 9, 2018
In partnership with pt.fwd, a new series of contemporary music and sonic arts performances featuring new work by local and regional artists in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, Sight Specific will be publishing conversations between the featured artists and pt.fwd director Eddie Breitweiser.
Erica Dicker and Katherine Young will be performing on Saturday, 11/10/2018 at 8 PM at the McLean County Arts Center. All pt.fwd performances are free and open to the public. Follow pt.fwd on Facebook and Instagram for more information, including upcoming performance dates.
Eddie: What's your background, both as individuals and as a group? How would you describe your artistic practice and what we’ll be hearing on Saturday?
Erica: Whoa. Well, Katie is someone with whom I grew up musically on all levels. We attended undergraduate institution together - all hail Oberlin! [laughs] - and some of my earliest experiences just very seriously trying to improvise with someone were with Katie. Like, with the lights turned out in a practice room at Oberlin [laughs]. And so we came into a lot of our aesthetic tastes, our collective musical awareness, together. Although we've got on our separate paths, it feels like coming home to play both improvised and notated music with her. So, I leapt at the opportunity to both come and perform at the Red Bull Music Festival this coming Friday but also to perform with her at - woohoo! - my good old home town of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.
Katie: I would add that Erica and I began playing a lot of notated chamber music together, and we played in a quartet that does sort of experimental chamber music. We've done that for 15 years or something. Our earliest concerts in that ensemble you were playing the music of Sofia Gubaidulina, so sort of European, avant-garde, 20th century music with a lot of crazy extended techniques, complicated rhythms, precise tunings, and things like that. But over the years as we both started to write more of our own music, we moved away from playing other people's music and started to play things that one of us wrote or things that we wrote together. And so we come from this very classical background, but at this point the influences are very wide-reaching - from things like Gubaidulina, but also noise, experimental rock, avant-garde jazz, and all kinds of things. And we work together now in like pop bands, rock bands, free jazz bands, classical music, and we played all kinds of things.
Erica: ...opera, orchestra, all sorts of things. My favorite context in which I’ve worked with Katie has been in her band Pretty Monsters. That was a band that she developed initially to flesh out her own solo music that she had written for an album she released, and to make it sort of more dynamic with other players. But with those pieces, it was so wonderful to get to know her as an improviser, but also as a band leader and to have an opportunity to walk around in her imaginary landscapes, so to speak. That's been one of the most fun and profound contexts in which I've had the opportunity to work with Katie, in the past decade at least.
Eddie: So, what I'm hearing in this is that as a group, between the two of you, and individually, it sounds like there's been a strong development from “the canon” and representing the work of other composers into developing your own voices as composers, either spontaneous or pre-written...
Katie: Yeah, notated...
Eddie: Sure. So, is that an arc that's continuing? Like, looking at 2018 and the music that you're going to be performing at pt.fwd for us, what makes this new? What arcs you feel like you're on right now? I ask that because part of the charge that pt.fwd makes for our artist is to encourage them to bring something new, to try something that's unique that they don't always have an audience for or an opportunity to perform. Has that charge factored into the selections that you're going to be bringing on Saturday?
Katie: Actually, Erica and I, for all the contexts we’ve played together in, haven’t played a lot of duo music. We worked a lot, like she mentioned, in this band I had Pretty Monsters, which was a quartet with guitar and drums, and another quartet Till by Turning with viola and piano, in bands Anthony Braxton has put together with other people…
Erica: We haven't played just the two of us before. I would like to think that if we still lived in the same place more than would have happened by now [laughs].
Eddie: Yeah, right.
Katie: Yeah, it feels kind of crazy that it hasn't happened. In that sense, it’s all totally new and we’re developing a set that features some charts that Erica has worked on and a lot of improvisation from both of us. So yeah, in that sense it's very new.
Eddie: That's exciting. Erica, you touched on this next question. With pt.fwd, we have a loose geographic mission. We are in a smaller community that doesn't get a lot of exposure to new music, experimental music, sound art - what I think are some of the most exciting traditions that are happening right now, and are really phenomenally represented in the Midwest and in Chicago, in particular. They’re happening in our own backyard, as well. But I'm curious - from Katie living in Chicago currently and Erica having a local roots but not living in the area anymore - if you can talk a little bit more about where you live and work? How your current environment, or your relationship to the Midwest, has informed your work, has created challenges for you, has created opportunities for you, and if there's any sort of dialogue there.
Erica: Oh, yes. Absolutely. This has been sort of an unprecedented year and a half for me in that for the first time in 11 years I have lived and the same zip code for more than 12 months...
Erica: ...and actually, if you do the math, I have spent more time on the ground in Ohio at various points than anywhere else on the planet. Though I do credit Normal, Illinois for my formative years [laughs]. I really do, and feel in some ways very terminally Midwestern. Chicago, for me, I definitely romanticized as a kid growing up in Normal. I always wanted to live there and it feels like such a wonderful triumph to move there as an adult, and especially as an adult that very clearly saw the kinds of music, particularly improvisation, and said that I wanted to be a part of that. That sort of communal and community aspect of music-making in the Midwest has really stayed with me and informed how I relate to other musicians in New York, and very generally in my life. I feel that it has been the key to maintaining this very long-standing connection that I have with other musicians, particularly Katie. And - since this is on the record - I want to send a really special shout-out to 88.1 WESN radio.
Erica: So, my parents both state teach in the School of Music at Illinois State University and I grew up in a conservative classical music household. But it was listening to the programming on local college radio that blew my mind and helped me discover. Like, I'll never forget hearing Ornette Coleman play the goddamn violin [laughs] for the first time on the album Friends and Neighbors, which was broadcast on a fateful Thursday night when I was a sophomore in high school. I was like, “What the hell is this?! This is incredible! I want to do this!” And just those experiences that I had in the Midwest as part of this community have really stayed with me and have definitely made me into the musician that I am today.
Eddie: When I was in my sophomore year of high school, too, actually, I had a late night radio show on 88.1.
Erica: Yes! They got to you, too!
Eddie: Maybe I'm taking liberties with this, but I hear you both relate so much to all these varied musical contexts. There's a certain type of hunger for various traditions and musical cultures while at the same time there's an acknowledgement that there are elements beyond just the musicality. In particular, the types of communal relationships feel very different in each of those musical contexts. And personally, I associate those in a very warm way with Midwest music. The rock scenes, the punk scenes, all the way up through the improv scenes. And frankly, I find the classical scenes here to be much more low-key and inclusive than in other parts of the country. On a personal level, that’s something that resonates with me, as well. I think is kind of in Midwestern musicians’ DNA to be attuned to those sensitivities. It's interesting to hear that’s something that continues and is represented so strongly in your practices today.
Katie: I could say that the way that I've thought about it is that the sort of DIY ethos in Chicago definitely inspires my music, and I find it inspiring - from starting out here after college, and coming here with Erica, and starting to try and make stuff. Part of that is that you don't know what you're doing, or that you don't know how to do everything, so you try things. So, you try different genres, you try different media, you try different materials. There's an openness there and an experimentalism that - when paired with a critical and thoughtful way of thinking about things that doesn't just gobble everything up but tries to appreciate where it came from and why it is what it is - can be really incredible.
Eddie: Agreed. Our informal theme for this season is “Start a fire and they will come”.
Eddie: So I'm curious if you have a “start a fire and they will come” moment?
Eddie: It's a curve ball.
Katie: Well, some of the things that we've been talking about relate to like, “our early days” [laughs] and it makes me think of playing in a pirate band...
Erica: The William Young!
Katie: Yes. I don't know if it was a fire but it was something [laughs] and people kept coming to our shows. We wore costumes and played acoustic instruments but got put on a lot of hardcore bills because we were pirates. So, I don't know. It's one of those examples where you make something weird, but you manage to find a place for it and meet a lot of amazing people doing it. Sort of a fire. [laughs]
Erica: It was really incredible incredible. I can't really top the pirate band when it comes to “making a fire and they will come”. In, New York I started a commissioning horn trio with a lot of amazing characters. We thought we were really fumbling along, but we finished our first major commission from composer Eric Wubbels. One of his pieces that just inspires me to no end is the children of fire come looking for fire. which is a piece for violin and piano that he and Joshua Modney have performed a lot (with Eric on piano and Josh on violin). They are individuals who belong to Wet Ink Ensemble, among other groups, in New York City. These are all these ensembles full of people who are musicians who come from various backgrounds, who come together just to support each other and to make their own music, and sort of help disseminate the climate of our times or sentiment and the sensibilities of this age and of each other. I feel like all the creative projects that I'm currently engaged in are in that really fun vein. I feel like both of us are really privileged to be involved in such…
Katie: ...fun things?
Erica: Yeah! I mean, we just get to work with our friends and help midwife our music into the world.
Eddie: It sounds, too, like it's very deliberate. It's not been an accident. You've crafted careers that are rooted in really enjoying the music that you make, right? I don't think - particularly if you’re in a more conventional classical mode - that that's necessarily an assumption. Especially if you're more in a performer role. It sounds like over the course of moving into the composer role and marrying that with performer chops, that has enabled you to carve out a career in that way.
Katie: I think that people have fun doing different things, right. Fun for me is not necessarily fun for other people. But there's really nothing much more fun to me then a brilliant, killer improvising set.
Katie: There is nothing that feels quite the same as going out with some that people you know - or that you don’t really know - and you know some things of what are going to happen - but not very many things - and just going all-in on that moment. The energy that I get from that kind of experience - I don't find it anywhere else. Yeah, it's really fun. [laughs] So thanks for giving us this opportunity!
Eddie: Of course! We’re very excited to have the show. The comment that you just made reminded me of a Keith Rowe quote in a documentary about his guitar playing that’s always stuck with me. He plays in the number of different contexts but he says that when he improvises, it's the only time in his entire life when he is really truly focused and paying attention to things.
Eddie: That's been an experience for me, as well. That your brain operates on such a different level in an improvisational context than any other musical context, I find.
Katie: Yeah, moving so fast and so slow at the same time.
Eddie: Yeah. Quick grab bag question. Has there been any inspiration coming from unexpected places recently?
Katie: Well, speaking of having fun, I am a mom of an almost-two-year-old. I don't think you'll hear anything that sounds like children in our set necessarily [laughs] but just the sort of joy that people at that age have for the unknown, for learning and discovery is just incredible. I'm finding it to be very inspiring right now.
Eddie: That's very cool. I can't imagine we won't hear that.
Katie: I hope you will! I hope it won’t sound like some of the nurseries rhymes we sing around the house [laughs].
Erica: [laughs] Oh, come on! No, it got pretty improvisatory when I was cooking in the kitchen, I gotta say. It was pretty happenin’ [laughs]. I feel pretty brain damaged after playing Pierre Boulez’s Dérives 2 last weekend...
Eddie: Oh, wow.
Erica: So I have nothing more to add [laughs].
Eddie: Well, hopefully this is a vacation.
Erica: This is amazing [laughs].
A proponent of new music, Erica Dicker is committed to creative collaboration with living composers and innovation in both the classical concert hall and nontraditional contexts. Erica is a founding member of the contemporary chamber music collective Till By Turning, an ensemble devoted to reinforcing the modern canon and linking educational programs to their repertoire. As part of the New York-based horn trio, Kylwyria, Erica and her colleagues, Julia Den Boer (piano) and John Gattis (horn), work to generate interest in and develop adventurous chamber music repertoire for their unique instrumentation through dynamic programming and commissioning. Erica is also violinist in Katherine Young’s Pretty Monsters, as well as Vaster Than Empires, an electro-acoustic collaboration with composer and sound artist Paul Schuette and percussionist Allen Otte. She has premiered works by many composers including solo works written for her by Olivia Block, Turkar Gasimzada, Ryan Ingebritsen and Katherine Young. Erica also writes and performs her own music, exploring the idiomatic modalities and textures of her instrument. Taking Auspices, her debut solo album, is released by Tubapede Records as a digital download and limited edition vinyl LP.
Erica serves as concertmaster of Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Foundation Orchestra, an ensemble founded to document and disseminate the operas by composer and multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, and has also performed with Braxton’s Falling River Quartet and Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet at festivals in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, and Turkey and appeared with the 12 + 1-tet at the 2012 Venice Biennale. Erica also writes about and curates performances of Braxton’s work, most recently for the International Contemporary Ensemble at the 2017 Ojai Music Festival.
A passionate advocate for preserving the vitality of orchestral performance, Erica also lends her talent to orchestras across the Midwestern United States, such as the Grand Rapids Symphony. She previously served as associate concertmaster of the Peoria Symphony and associate principal second violin of the South Bend Symphony, and held leadership roles in festivals including Spoleto USA and the National Repertory Orchertra. In Germany Erica was part of the Bergische Symphoniker and performed with the Bachakademie Stuttgart International Festival Orchestra under the direction of Helmut Rilling.
Erica received her training at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (BM), the University of Minnesota (MM), and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (DMA). Her primary teachers include Gabriel Pegis, Marilyn McDonald, and Jorja Fleezanis.
Erica resides in Astoria, New York with her husband and creative collaborator, tubist Dan Peck.
The curious timbres, expressive noises, and kinetic structures of my electroacoustic music explore the dramatic physicality of sound, shifting interpersonal dynamics, and associations with the familiar and the strange. The LAPhil's Green Umbrella series, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW, Ensemble Dal Niente, Third Coast Percussion, Spektral Quartet, Weston Olencki, Nico Couck / Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt, Fonema Consort, and others have commissioned my music. I'm excited about coming-soon (and soon-to-be recent) projects with Lucy Dehgrae for Resonant Bodies Festival, WasteLAnd and RAGE, Distractfold Ensemble’s Linda Jankowska, Callithumpian Ensemble, and Yarn/Wire. I'm releasing new music this year with Michael Foster & Michael Zerang, Wet Ink, and Amy Cimini (as Architeuthis Walks on Land).
As a bassoonist and improviser, I amplify my instrument and employ a flexible electronics setup. My debut solo album garnered praise in The Wire (“Bassoon colossus”) and Downbeat (“seriously bold leaps for the bassoon”). Collaboration is central to my practice, and I perform regularly as a soloist, in ad hoc improvised groups, and with my long-standing ensembles Pretty Monsters, Architeuthis Walks on Land, and Till by Turning.
My dissertation - Nothing Is as It Appears: Anthony Braxton's Trillium J - completed for the DMA in composition at Northwestern University - documents and analyzes Anthony Braxton’s operatic project.
Edward Breitweiser is an Illinois-based artist, musician, and writer. Incorporating models from various intellectual traditions and bodies of knowledge, Breitweiser organizes particulars (software, electronics, audio/visual signals, text, networked distribution channels, improvisational music, performative activities) into arrangements whose products are the macro-result of the emergent interactions of all components at once.
His works have been presented at Festival MusicAlp (Courchevel, France); Network Music Festival (Birmingham, UK); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago); Illinois State University Galleries (Normal, IL); MobileHCI (Stockholm); Salle Cortot (Paris); threewalls (Chicago); the Giorgio Cini Foundation (Venice); Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, IL); the Fuse Factory (Columbus); and the McLean County Arts Center (Bloomington, IL).