nyc-based composer, pianist, arranger, and music director. i do other stuff, too.

On Process, Forgetting, and Mail Chutes

Added on by Avi Amon.

I recently wrote a post for the Target Margin blog. Sharing it below, in full, as well:

Something happens when you allow yourself to get lost, to forget. You make yourself available to receive little bits of gold you couldn’t have found if you were looking for them. For example, if you were to walk by certain elevator banks in certain oldish, tallish buildings (typically in Midtown, downtown Brooklyn, or the Financial District) you might notice certain brass and glass architectural details built into the wall, with the following inscription:

CUTLER MAIL CHUTE CO.
ROCHESTER, N. Y.

Easily-overlooked bits of nonfunctioning nostalgia, perhaps. But in the context of this piece I’m developing (if we can call it that), I suddenly saw them as ghosts of a forgotten process and of a place I used to call home, hidden in plain sight all over the city.

I’ve written a short play to demonstrate my process, generally speaking, with collaborators in the past:

THEM
We’re doing a thing! Are you a composer person?

ME
Yes, I am a composer person! What’s the thing?

THEM
Here’s the thing! What does the thing sound like?

time passes…

ME
I figured it out! The thing sounds like this! (demonstrates what the thing sounds like) Please consider giving me money.

Blackout.

Let’s be clear: I love every minute of it. And I don’t mean to make it seem like it’s always easy or that I always have a plan, because it isn’t and I certainly don’t. But it usually has an end goal in sight and when you have an end goal in sight, it becomes easy to rely on muscle memory. A song goes like this. Underscoring goes like that. I was getting tired of what that muscle memory was starting to sound like for me so it was time to get rid of some habits.

Most of my music creation comes out of a structured improvisatory process that takes a long time and involves wading through a lot of bologna to get to the good stuff. What if I applied that technique on a macro level? Zoom out even further to an entire piece of theater – I could create or collect enough material to cull through and deal with it later. Also maximum scariness challenge: maybe it wouldn’t even have music in it?!

In short: what happens when I step away from creation and towards discovery?

My plan was to have no plan, to get lost in the accumulation of stuff, and to let that guide the process. It’s sort of like falling down one of those deep Wikipedia rabbit-holes where you “learn” everything there is to know about Nietzsche, Liberia, bread-kneading, the many types of mint (there are many), Judy Blume, and Bitcoin, only to realize that it’s 6am you didn’t do any of the work you had planned on doing.

But less mind-numbing. And I still feel good about myself and my choices.

About halfway through my year with Target Margin, I came across this article. It’s like, well-written, and interesting, and about a really devastating earthquake that’s supposed to happen in the Pacific Northwest and how we’re not prepared and blah blah blah. But what was REALLY interesting is how scientists confirmed when the last earthquake happened (in 1700) by comparing geological records with Japanese accounts of a big wave, and myths passed down through generations of various First Nations tribes. This type of historical detective work is absolutely fascinating, particularly reinterpreting the often-metaphorical language in the legends— there is always a context in which anything that is written or said is written or said.

This led me to countless stories and legends (many about natural disasters), archeological discoveries around the globe and here in NYC, forgotten whistling languages, modern diagnoses of ancient diseases, and the discovery of the color Blue. I learned that there is a person with the title Neuro-Cultural Anthropologist. From that person I learned that Memory Studies are a thing. And then I learned about the distinct types of forgetting we might experience on a societal and personal level. From there I began reading about dementia and personal identity which, in turn, led me right back to storytelling which, it has be come abundantly clear, is the skeleton on which we hang our entire universe.

As with noticing the Cutler Mail Chutes in the hallways of old buildings, I am simply allowing information to happen to me and taking meticulous notes along the way. There is so much magic buried in obscure texts, forgotten places, dead languages, and deep in our brains. So many things are forgotten and destroyed only to be rebuilt or rediscovered in some unpredictable form later. I think I’m still pretty deep in “improvisatory” fact-finding stage, but I’ve begun to pull out specific characters, narratives, and bits of sound (ok, it might have music in it) that will hopefully maybe someday fit into a piece/project/opera/something-more-than-a-pile-of-things-on-a-table.

I’m still a bit lost, but I’m super excited about it.

THE WHITE CITY w/ The Chelsea Symphony

Added on by Avi Amon.

We, quite literally, could not be more excited for this. There's lots of other stuff going on, but like. THIS. I've been working with (and learning from) our incredible orchestrator, Kim Sherman, and the amazing folks over at The Musical Theatre Factory for past few months. Good lord, does the music sound fantastic! Here's the blurb:

The Musical Theatre Factory and The Chelsea Symphony invite you to Get Yourself Some NEW ORCHESTRATIONS! This exciting new series pairs emergent musical theatre writers with Broadway orchestrators to commission stunning new orchestrations of their shows. Excerpts from four new musicals (and one reimagined favorite!) will be brought to life by the 35-piece Chelsea Symphony and a cast of Broadway stars in this not-to-be-missed benefit concert for the Musical Theatre Factory.

Click here for more info and tickets.

2014, NVR4GET

Added on by Avi Amon.

Yeah, well that happened. 

It was an amazing year full of personal and professional growth. Julia and I came off of the 2014 NMTC high with as much grace as possible (read: not that much grace) and have continued developing THE WHITE CITY in a very real way. Just waiting to hear back from the 752 awards and grants we applied to at this point.... Other highlights include: a collaboration with Kareem Lucas on a night of performance poetry, the release of Jessica Carvo's EP - Nightfall, a collaboration with the team at Block Club on a video for the United Nations, and the joy of seeing PagPag continuing to make its way around the international film circuit.

But now onto things more relevant. 2015! After a productive week up at the O'Neill earlier this month, Julia and I are making great progress on our new show, SALONIKA. Get ready for some incredible/intense storytelling (pay attention to that word), Ladino nursery rhymes, and a score that fuses electronica with sounds from the Balkans the Middle East. And of course, there will be some Ottoman-era shadow puppetry, too. So, yeah.

I'll leave you with some videos from our concert of THE WHITE CITY last December. Producing your own stuff is hard but this makes it a little worth the effort and is a great reminder of how talented my friends are:

The White City selected for the 2014 NMTC!

Added on by Avi Amon.

Julia and I are humbled and excited to announce that our show, The White City, was selected for development as part of the 2014 National Music Theater Conference! We'll be spending a few weeks this summer workshopping the show and learning from everyone we meet. Can't wait for the process to start.  

Check out the press release on PLAYBILL and visit the O'Neill website for more information, show dates, etc.

Lil' Sound Design Party

Added on by Avi Amon.
Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.
— Joseph Campbell

I had the pleasure of working on the first iteration of this show with writer/director, Annie Levy, last year.  It's certainly come a long way and is now paired with another show directed by Jay Stern.  Both pieces deal with themes of identity, family, and mythology and as someone who is exploring his own ancestry, I find them particularly interesting.

Developing sound and music cues for both shows was a lot of fun! I love using found sound and scouring the interwebs for all sorts of goodies to throw into the mix. We also had the opportunity to explore the Latvian Daina song/poetic form, and I composed several tunes, setting Annie's text to music.

Both pieces turned out beautifully and if you're around this weekend, get your tickets here.

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New Demos!

Added on by Avi Amon.

The past few months have been CRAZY CITY.  Julia and I have been insane people, spending plenty of late-night hours in the studio after working full days at our jobs. But it's been worth it. There are now 10 tracks recorded from the The White City, including 4 new ones this month alone. I wanted to specifically share the opening number - we're super proud of it and SO thankful for all the time and energy everyone has given to help make it a reality.  Have a listen:  

Ensemble - Avi Amon, Hannah Dowdy, Benny Gammerman, Julia Gytri, Geoffrey Kidwell, Beth Kirkpatrick, Matthew Ellis Murphy, Sara Nicholson, Helen Park, Mike Siktberg

Guitar - Mike Siktberg
Piano - Will Buck

Chicago 1893. Meet Lucy, a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West, in town to perform for crowds at the World's Fair. She quickly discovers that she's not interested in performing: all she wants is to be the audience and bear witness to this historic event. As she explores the grounds with Jem, a Columbian Guard, they learn of the modern wonders that the World's Columbian Exposition has to offer, becoming entranced by all of the possibilities that lie in their future.

PAGPAG Featured at Montreal World Film Festival

Added on by Avi Amon.
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August 25th and 30th! More info on my calendar page. Here is the posting on the Montreal World Film Festival website that will have the information as well. It's being billed under the Focus On World Cinema Short Film Series. Roadtrip? Anyone?

I had the distinct pleasure of scoring this film last year. John Paul Su is an extremely talented, up-and-coming writer/director who I met through a mutual friend at NYU. PAGPAG has already won a number of awards, most recently, the Directors' Guild of America Student Film Award.

PAGPAG tells the story of a young girl's hopes for adoption while living in the landfill-slums outside of Manila.  The score is influenced by traditional Filipino rhythms and pop music from the region. Several of the instruments are actually played through pieces of garbage to highlight the characters' plight as well as their strength through adversity. Please visit my film music page for more info. 

New Job! New Website!

Added on by Avi Amon.

Thrilled to announce that I've joined the JCCManhattan as a program associate with their Arts+Ideas department. Arts+Ideas at the JCC has an impressive music, theater, film, guest speaker, and visual art series - I'm helping develop and coordinate these events. Yeah!

NEXT:

What's the best thing to do with your summer after finishing your MFA?  Make a website that actually showcases your work.  I've spent the last month or so diving into the whole Squarespace (actual best platform on the planet) thing and I'm pleased with how everything has turned out.  

Be sure to check out all the music and videos I've curated on this site and be in touch if you catch any typos.  I'm not saying that I'll change anything, just like, you know.

I've also updated the layout of my tumblr.  Hope to get back on that bandwagon soon but I posted a weird face-in-a-face-in-a-face gif thing in the meantime.