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Musician Stephanie Richards Hopes 'Fullmoon' Resonates With Listeners

UC San Diego music professor Stephanie Richards in an undated photo.
Chris Weiss
UC San Diego music professor Stephanie Richards in an undated photo.
Musician Stephanie Richards Hopes 'Fullmoon' Resonates With Listeners
Musician Stephanie Richards Hopes "Fullmoon" Resonates With Listeners GUEST: Stephanie Richards, music professor, UC San Diego

>>> This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Stephanie Richards has worked with some of the music industry's top talent. She has also known for her experimental work like a composition written for a carousel organ performed by a dozen musicians on a moving carousel. Richards' latest work is her solo album, "Fullmoon". She spoke with our producer. >> Reporter: your resume includes performances with many, I think someone looking at those musicians make some assumptions about what your solo work could be like. What is the concept behind this album? >> The concept is that some of the sounds you hear in this project are stemming from one source and that is the trumpet. When you are listening to it you will hear layers of all sorts of colors of ethereal sounds. Those are residences that are being picked up by instruments I play -- place around me in the studio. I am placing my trumpet close to a gong and I am playing into that, the gong that is picking up the frequencies, no one is playing the gong or touching it but the gong is vibrating and creating its own music in response to the feeling from the trumpet. >> Reporter: let's dive in, this is gong from your debut -- debut album, "Fullmoon". [ Music ] >> Reporter: what are we hearing? >> That is a great example -- I am sitting underneath the big huge gong and I am playing the trumpet, certain notes will resonate or echo and other notes will not. Inside of those textures, we hear electronic sounds? That is my collaborator and he is acting like a resonator, much like the gong in the southern percussion instruments. He is sampling sounds I am playing, in the studio in real time and playing them back. Whatever fragments of melody or pieces and bits he is hearing that are resonating with him, he is playing them back and re-creating these textures and layers with that. >> Reporter: let's hear one more, this is piano -- [ Music ] what should we be noticing here as different from when you were performing next to the gong? >> There are a lot of similarities and a more melodic feel you are getting from it. We have similar overtones that are being picked up with the piano. In that track, I am employing extended techniques. You are hearing a growly sound come from the trumpet and I am using traditional ways and also embracing extended techniques. Some might consider this the wrong way to play the trumpet but I find, some of these sounds are really beautiful, this ugly beauty that can emerge from playing these techniques. >> Reporter: you are using the trumpet against these other musical instruments, I have read that -- you have pleaded against aluminum foil, put it in or submerged in water, what is it about playing with the trumpet and the services that is interesting to you? >> There are infinite possibilities, as trumpet players we have our own arsenal of colors to play with, as soon as I cross that barrier of looking beyond mute to change the color of my trumpet, it is infinite. Water is such a beautiful surface to work with, it is hard to control and it is always a surprise to work with. I feel like, and working with these other services and textures, it brings ideas to myself as an improviser but also as a composer. >> Reporter: there is another series you are working on that is not part of this record, another record coming out later. You are playing with sounds and smells at the same time? It has been described as a scratch and sniff album? Is that a fair way to describe it? >> Absolutely, that is perfect. I am fascinated with working with my environment when I am playing. We have scents that are surrounding the envelopment that I am playing in, a jazz pianist is on the record. He is set up in the studio with a series of scents, different boxes to open and close and smell and react inside the musical compositions. >> Reporter: are they bubblegum's, what odors are you looking at or smelling? >> Exactly, what is important in this project that -- is to find sent that are completely abstract, nothing tangible about the sent, would you smell it it does not smell like bubblegum but maybe there is a brightness or a staccato rhythmic sourness to the sent. You don't know what it is but it gives you a bit of a sensation were a texture that you can be working from. To pair that with Muzak can be a really interesting compositional challenge. >> Reporter: the idea is that the people who buy the album would be able to, in some way, smell that same smell that the artist's were smelling when they created the song? >> Absolutely. That is part of this quest of mine, to find ways to engage in listeners in our life context or ache recorded context. What are ways we can be making people feel close to the music? The scratch and sniff project is one experiment, how does it feel when you put on a record and to find out what the title track is you have to scratch and sniff something. >> Reporter: for "Fullmoon" how are you recommending people listen or experience the album? It is unsettling or ethereal, it is not road trip music . >> It depends on where you are driving. I think this is music, there is no hidden meaning that it requires your attention. I don't think having it played in the background would be as enjoyable as sitting down and purposefully committing. It is really short and concise, I have had my listeners in mind with this. Almost a short story, they are really quite short so you can sit down and listen for 4 1/2 minutes and get a saturated sense of color. >> That was musician Stephanie Richards, Richards' will perform her debut solo album, "Fullmoon" at the music Center at UC San Diego. Be sure to watch KPBS Midday Edition at 5:30 PM tonight. Join us tomorrow for KPBS Midday Edition at noon. If you ever miss the show, there is the podcast at www.KPBS.org/podcast. I am Maureen Cavanaugh, thank you for listening.

UC San Diego music professor and trumpeter Stephanie Richards has worked with some of the music industry’s top talent, including David Byrne, the Pixies and Kanye West. But she’s also known for her experimental work, like a composition written for a carousel organ performed by a dozen musicians on an actual moving carousel.

Richards' latest work is her first solo album, "Fullmoon." Most of the record involves Richards playing her trumpet up against percussion instruments and capturing that sound reverberating back from instruments including a gong, timpani drum and piano.

“It’s like the moon, reflecting light,” she said.

The music can be alternatively ethereal and unsettling. NPR described Richards’ trumpet as “deep space wrapped around your head, a flood in the endless void.”

“It’s very experimental in its approach and may be hard to categorize,” Richards said. "It’s not avant-garde, contemporary, not quite electronic ambiance. It sits in this other grey zone. "

Richards will perform Fullmoon Wednesday night at UCSD’s Conrad Prebys Music Center. She joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss her inspiration.

"Gong" by Stephanie Richards