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Orchestra Nova goes green with new 'Surf'-inspired work

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May 9, 2012 12:59 p.m.


Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director and conductor of Orchestra Nova.

Joseph Waters, composer and professor of music at San Diego State University.

Related Story: Orchestra Nova Goes Green With New 'Surf'-Inspired Work


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: When you think of surf music, you probably think of a staccato electric guitar, and tune like wipeout a new composition premiering at Orchestra Nova my expand your notions of surf music. It combines classical, pop, rock, and electronica to recreate the experience and freedom of riding the waves. It's called Surf, and part of orchestra nova's tribute to mother nature called nova goes green. Jung-Ho Pak is artistic director of orchestra nova. Welcome back.

PAK: It's great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Joseph Waters is the composer of Surf, and professor of music at San Diego state university. Welcome to the show.

WATERS: Why thank you! It's delightful to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Jung-Ho, why did you want to devote an entire concert series to nature?

PAK: Well, first off, it's easy. Composers wrote so much music dedicated to nature, I could have produced another hundred concerts about nature. They would walk out or write in nature.

CAVANAUGH: It was their inspiration.

PAK: Absolutely. They felt that the nature of music, forgive the pun, actually came from the environment, from the earth. And I think in many ways, it's very true. If you listen to mother nature, it has rhythm, whether it's long rhythm of the seasons or whether it's a bird call. There's great music into it. And composers would be very tempted to capture it and put it down on paper.

CAVANAUGH: Joseph, you were commissioned by orchestra nova to capture on paper a piece of Southern California. Why did you choose surfing as your musical focus?

WATERS: Oh, because I think it's this beautiful part of who we are as a culture, locally. And when we started speaking, Jung-Ho and I about three years ago about doing this piece about nature, and also something that should be about nature that's part of this geography locally, it seemed clear to me that it had to be surfing. When you go to the beach, and people are there every day, it's all ages, and it transcends all walks of life. They even have news surfing reports in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: We have one here.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering. Now, I know that you don't surf.

WATERS: I'm a boogie border if I'm lucky.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wandering though how the inspiration then is part of -- is part of your inspiration a desire to be part of that culture?

WATERS: I think we're part of that culture. I mean, I think it speak enforce who we are here. , for example, I love to watch the fireworks at Ocean Beach. If you go there, there's this tradition where people start marching out onto the ocean to watch the fireworks on their surf board, and the first time I saw that, it was amazing. I was caught off guard. People paddle out in the darkness so they can see and sit out there in the middle of the ocean and see the fireworks breaking over them. And I thought -- no one talks about that in the tourist manuals. That's just a part of who we are here.

CAVANAUGH: That's San Diego. Is part of the inspiration that great old rock and roll surf music that you talked about in the enter UKZ?

WATERS: When I starting about this, it's important for me to find music and connect it to the music that is spontaneously produced by our culture. When I started thinking about doing a piece about San Diego, and it had to be about surf, I remembered the surfing music from when I was a little kid. And I was far away from the orbed in the midwest. As a teenaged keyboard player in a rock band, we were playing these tunes and dreaming about being in California. I spent about a week just listening to all this stuff, and I found there's something about it that's really dynamic and something that I thought was a real expression of what I was able to observe about the craziness, the wildness, and the voluptuousness and the power of the ocean, and the act of surfing. And I thought that's the connection, that's the conduit.

CAVANAUGH: Let's hear just a little bit of this piece. Here is the introduction from Surf, composed by Joseph Waters, performed by orchestra nova. &%F0

(Audio Recording Played)

CAVANAUGH: Just a brief taste there of a new work called Surf performed by orchestra NOEV Acomposed by Joseph water. Tell us if you would about your creative process with Surf. How did you decide to structure this piece?

WATERS: Since it was going to be a piece that featured this lovely violinist, Lindsey Deutsche, that works with orchestra nova, and one of the people I work with, an amazing saxophone player, his time is Todd reWalt. So it was going to be a double concerto, two soloists with orchestra. And I thought the natural thing would be that they're like surfers and that the orchestra is like the ocean. And how could I think about what they're doing like the kinds of tricks that you see and the amazing things that surfers do when they're negotiating this very powerful force of tons of water underneath them. And saxomus is a sponsored skateboarder when he was a little kid, so it works out well.

CAVANAUGH: There's a link there. And what are the musical elements that you combine in this piece? Are there elements of rock and pop and classical and all of that mixed into Surf?

WATERS: Oh, totally. The beats from rock, very African American, stuff that I grew up with, and very natural for me to combine these things. And also Gershwin, I first heard Gershwin when I was, like, 3, and I still love the rhapsody in blue.

CAVANAUGH: You can hear a little bit of that in this

WATERS: It finds its way into my music all over the place. And Bernstein, Copeland, my heroes.

PAK: But you also quote wipeout too.

WATERS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. This is from that, directly from my experience. And then also the newest textures, do you know BYork and Radiohead?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, oh, yeah.

WATERS: These are people who are doing work that transcends boundaries.

PAK: Joe really embodies the kind of music that I like to present at these concerts. Classical music is going to survive only when it has relevance. So when you've got all this pop, folk, world music coming into the concert hall, it's just -- we are not an orchestra of the 19thed country. We're here for today.

CAVANAUGH: Was it difficult combining these elements into 1 piece?

PAK: Well, I really let Joe come up with his own recipe for this music, whatever he's inspireded. But it has been a collaborative process.

WATERS: Absolutely.

PAK: Which has been quite lovely. It's not every composer that's willing to listen to a conductor. I can't imagine Beethoven, well, you want me to make this phrase shorter? But I know my audiences, they're growing, we're selling out concerts all the time. So I asked Joe to trust me to custom tailor a piece while maintaining his own voice. And it's been a joyous exchange.

WATERS: It has.

PAK: He's been very generous giving me what I think audiences will -- but his ideas are so brilliant, so creative.

WATERS: I haven't compromised anything, actually, and it's been a great process.

CAVANAUGH: Let's hear another excerpt.

(Audio Recording Played)

PAK: That's a computer MOK up, because we're learning it as we speak.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.

PAK: But the actual orchestral version will sound much more live.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my Godness. ? I didn't realize that. So what we're hearing now is a computer preview so to speak?

PAK: Technology as come so far that we can get a sense of what the piece sounds like on a computer before we actually play it.

CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating

WATERS: And it's part of the composer's process to do a good mockup, but actually the saxophone is real.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. How will you create in concert the underwater sounds that you use in this piece?

PAK: Oh, those are all custom-made. I'm playing laptop. I'm one of the instruments in the orchestra. And I have this band, so one of the things I do in the band is play the laptop, and I create all my OIN sounds. And I usually start with natural sounds. So it could be anything, but in this case it was natural to go to water. So I bought several years ago, my wife is a very patient person, I bought the equivalent of a studio microphone for recording dolphins and whales. It's a $2,000 microphone that you would take into the ocean. And so far I've only taken it into my bathtub. When I was creating sounds for this piece, I was dipping things under water and listening to the way they change and vibrate, and recording them under and over water at the same time and mixes them together. So it creates this otherworldly strange set of sounds that we don't really know about and that somehow I think it reflects what we associate with maybe from swimming in swimming pools the kind of disorganizations that we get underwater.

CAVANAUGH: There's a video element to this piece as well, right?

PAK: Oh, yeah.

PAK: All this is going to be very much melded so it's a very sensual experience for sonic and this wonderful creative video.

WATERS: It's actually a live video. The video is being performed live. So we had to have -- the orchestra is going to be playing, it's not like a film. The orchestra has to be flexible with the tempo. So I had a custom software created so the video is being performed live with these live cross-fades, so it follows what he's doing as the conductor. Zuri is saying I need this shot of -- I want to have this shot of the camera coming out of the water, flying out of the ocean, in a big arch and landing in a wave, and I'm going, okay, kiddo. How are we going to do that? We ended up buying a custom high-end video camera and putting rocket wings on it, and then launching that off the pier into the sunset.


WATERS: And it spirals, I didn't know that. So with slow mo at 120 frames per second, and then it goes under water.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds -- it's quite new. Quite new.

CAVANAUGH: I just want to give you a chance of the other things that are going to be part of orchestra nova goes green.

PAK: We're doing a piece called aqua, are and it's an homage to Jacque [can you|you can|cu] stow. We're doing lark ascending, a gorgeous violin piece. And then Beethoven's 6th symphony.

CAVANAUGH: The pastoral.

PAK: This is also a kind of early 19th century version of what Joe is doing. And you'll hear birds twittering, brook, and a shepherd in the back

WATERS: It's the best storm ever.

PAK: This whole concert is this wonderful, extravagant dedication to mother nature. And the last thing I want to say about that is really, I think classical music by itself is wonderful, but when it can serve to raise awareness of people. And we'll be interviewing some people from Scripps aquarium to talk about the stress of an environmental pollution and things like this.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us where these concerts are going to be performed

PAK: This Friday evening in Coronado, Saturday at Qualcomm hall in Sorrento Valley, and Monday evening in La Jolla at Sherwood auditorium. And tickets, I know it sounds trite, but they are selling fast.

CAVANAUGH: And that is on our website, so you can check it out there. Thank you both very much.

WATERS: Such a pleasure.