Interview with Composer Danny Clay

Danny Clay is a composer and teaching artist from Ohio, currently based in San Francisco. His work is deeply rooted in curiosity, collaboration, and the sheer joy of making things. His projects often incorporate musical games, open forms, found objects, archival media, toy instruments, classrooms of elementary schoolers, graphic notation, digital errata, cross-disciplinary research, and the everything-in-between. His latest piece, five questions about home will be premiered by mezzo-soprano, Lauren McAllister on our April 7 Solo Soundbox concert at Rohs Street Café. 

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?

DC: I like to make things that have some element of uncertainty about them built into the process — I love the idea that when I make something, I’m not entirely sure what the end result will be, perhaps even down to the moment of performance. I love the notion that we – the audience, the performer, and myself – can all be placed in a situation where we are discovering something in the same space, at the same time. This play-based approach to working has emerged in large part from working part-time as an elementary school teacher for the past five years.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, five questions about home?

DC: I put out an open call to people from all over the place to record themselves answering, sort of free-association-style, a few simple questions about their home. The text – in the form of actual recordings and singing by Lauren – is a collage of their answers. (I’m going to keep the questions a secret.) In the piece I also use a little wooden pump-organ that I am borrowing from a friend, something about it seems quite homey to me.

CSB: How have you seen the environment for new music in Cincinnati change? Do you see any similarities or connections in your current location?

DC: I haven’t been back to Cincinnati in about seven years, I’m sad to say, but I have such fond memories of the creative scene there. I remember it as a place where artistic and aesthetic risks could be taken in a warm and supportive community. I feel that here in San Francisco, too, and I can only imagine they are on similar wavelengths.

CSB: What have you been exploring in your recent works?

DC: More and more I want to make things WITH people – to use questions and inquiries about sound as a means of creating, I guess, “community building projects” of some kind. Creating spaces where voices other than my own can inhabit a space together – communicate, discover, coexist. That’s really exciting to me.

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

DC: The same night as CSB, in San Francisco, I’m doing an installation at an art gallery called “Turntable Drawings” with a friend of mine, printmaker Jon Fischer. Jon and I have made our own records (designed by him, with sounds by me engraved on them) – gallery visitors will be invited to play the records, and we will have a number of different artists playing and improvising with the various record sounds.


Bo Seo on “In Passing”


Bo Seo is a writer and editor. He is Korean and Australian.

We asked Bo to share some thoughts on the text he wrote for a new work in collaboration with composer Rachel C. Walker, In passing. Come hear the premiere by Lauren McAllister and percussionist Carlos Camacho on April 7th at Rohs Street Café in Clifton as part of Solo Soundbox: Lauren McAllister, Mezzo-Soprano.

I got the idea for this piece on a slow train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella in Sri Lanka, on which the only escape from the heat of the carriage and its travellers were the windows. The street was at eye level, and I saw farmers, makers, builders, drivers and merchants tracking our progress along the tracks. On a few occasions, I found myself waving to them and saw them, barely seconds after, waving back. It felt like the most private of acts.

To see and to be seen in return, and to have this exchange confirmed into knowledge by physical gesture, is for us an essentially human want. In our time in China, the composer and I have seen the extraordinary growth of High-Speed Rail networks, or gāotiě (高铁), and with it, the retirement of old tracks in favor of those supporting greater speeds. It made us wonder what would happen to that gesture, the wave, and to the mind that reaches for it. And it made us think that passing has a familiar, if uneasy, interior.

– Bo Seo, March 2018

Interview with composer Mackenzie Jacob LaMont


Mackenzie Jacob LaMont is a composer and percussionist who earned his DMA in composition from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. He is an active composer, performer, music educator, and owner/operator of a small music recording company. His latest piece, Snow, not ash will be premiered by clarinetist Andrea Vos-Rochefort on our April 11 Solo Soundbox Concert in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotel.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer? 

MJL: Since 2015, my works have mainly been divided into two categories: pieces that are essentially a fusion between minimalism and progressive rock, and pieces that are inspired by nature. The first category is great for abstract musical ideas, but can also be a vehicle for addressing various topics. There is a big difference between my twenty-minute, politically-charged wind ensemble piece, Not About Posies and my six-minute jam, Gristle, but if you take them apart they share a lot of the same musical DNA. My nature pieces are completely different, coming from a very emotional place. I did a bit of traveling around the U.S. from 2014-2017, and seeing the geographical changes from the East coast to Wyoming (sorry West-coasters, maybe soon) reawakened this deep appreciation I have for the natural world, as well as fears I have associated with climate change. Both ways of composing are very intuitive for me, and I’m starting to see it as a kind of left-brain/right-brain situation. There has been some cross-pollination in certain pieces as well.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, Snow, not ash?

MJL: Snow, not ash is a reaction to where I currently live. Our house, surrounded by steel plants and coke processing centers (coke is basically a form of coal for processing iron), is occasionally inundated with falling ash. While composing, I can sometimes see this ash floating down outside my window. In winter it is a relief to see falling snow instead of ash. Listeners can take the title as a symbol of hope, a poetic statement, or simply the situation in which the piece was composed. It definitely fits into my “nature” category.

CSB: How have you seen the environment for new music in Cincinnati change throughout your time here?

MJL: In 2012, when I first came to Cincinnati, the only new music event I was aware of outside the University of Cincinnati was the MusicNOW festival. Since then, various organizations and venues other than the symphony have stood out as centers of new music. In those six years, social media has turned into even more of a marketing tool than it was, allowing very small organizations and even individual performers and composers to reach more and more people. While it still requires hard work, well-advertised new music events in Cincinnati always seem to draw a crowd.

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

MJL: The week after this Cincinnati Soundbox concert, I have a trio for alto saxophone, bass trombone, and accordion being premiered at Butler University in Indianapolis. I enjoy commissions for odd instrumentations, but this one might have the trickiest yet! I’m currently working on a few recording projects, and I’m pursuing a few commissions for the summer.

Interview with composer Ellen Ruth Harrison

EllenEllen Ruth Harrison is a composer who currently teaches as an Adjunct Instructor of Composition at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  She is also chair of music theory and composition in CCM’s Preparatory Department. Her music has been acclaimed as “stunning” and “sophisticated”, with “contrasting moods and atmospheres”. Her piece Ein Hauch Um Nichts will be performed by clarinetist Andrea Vos-Rochefort on our April 11 Solo Soundbox Concert in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotel.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?

ERH: My music is essentially melodic, although color, texture and, increasingly, rhythm and meter also play an important role.  Extra-musical ideas often serve as a point of departure, whether through evocative language, visual arts, book reviews, even conversations and restaurant menus.  Whatever the source of inspiration is, it conjures up some sort of imagery that grabs me on a very elementary level.  This imagery might help me express a mood or atmosphere, or create some kind of character, such as a charlatan, a masked being, a Diva, a She-Devil.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, Ein Hauch um Nichts

ERH: I became interested in Rilke after hearing a wonderful setting of four of his sonnets by my friend Cindy Cox at Aspen.  I picked up a copy of his Sonnets to Orpheus and was very taken by the third sonnet in which he writes, “Song is being.  For the god, a simple matter.  But when do we exist? . . True singing is a different breath. A breath for nothing.  A wafting in the god.  A wind.”  I was particularly struck by the rhythm and sound of the line, “Ein Hauch um Nichts,” and thought it would be a fitting title for a clarinet solo that features the lyrical, singing quality of the instrument.

CSB: How have you seen the environment for new music in Cincinnati change throughout your time here?

ERH: I moved to Cincinnati from Paris.  I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two cities since Paris is so much larger and at the time was the center of most of France’s new music.  Of course, there was much less going on here.  Regardless, I found people to be quite interested in contemporary music.  I remember that Ann Santen had a radio show once a week that featured new music.  In general though, most of the new music took place at CCM.  That has certainly changed now with the advent of concert: nova, All of the Above, and your group, Cincinnati Soundbox, among others.  It’s a very exciting scene now.  And I believe the CSO is performing contemporary music on 9 or 10 of its concerts next season!

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

ERH: All of the Above’s flutist, Nave Graham, is giving a recital of contemporary music at Xavier University on April 7.  She and Jackie Stevens are premiering a work of mine for soprano and flute, Between Magic and Possibility.  It’s a setting of fragments from Norman Finkelstein’s, Track.  He’s a professor of English at Xavier so I’m excited that the premiere will happen at the chapel there.  A couple of weeks later, the Oak Park Concert Chorale will give two performances of my choral work Music Is, a setting of a wonderful text by Joshua McGuire.  And in late May, Weston Gilbert will premier the violin version of Solitude.

Interview with composer Haerim Seok

Originally from Seoul, Haerim Seok is a Korean composer based in Newmarket, Ontario. Her output ranges from instrumental works, computer music, and pieces for young musicians. She holds degrees in music composition from Yonsei University and the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where she received her doctorate. Her piece, Hanabie will be performed by clarinetist Andrea Vos-Rochefort on our April 11 Solo Soundbox Concert in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotel.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?

HS: I would say that I’m very drawn to melody and incorporating clear structures, often based on classical forms. Even as a child, my musical upbringing was steeped in part writing, analysis, and honoring the classics. A fascination with contemporary music techniques didn’t come until later, so I guess a lot of my work as a composer is about finding a personal way to connect materials both old and new.
I’m also particularly interested in writing solo and duo pieces, sometimes with, sometimes without electronics. This is because I feel that identity in today’s world is more about the individual and less about belonging to a group.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, Hanabie?

HS: Hanabie is a Japanese term describing a sudden period of cold in the early spring. THe word itself translates to “jealousy of flowers”, so I tried to musically represent aspects of this change of weather, things like rushing winds and rapidly fluctuating temperatures. Around the time that I started writing this piece I became very interested in the clarinet, the wide range and the distinct timbres of each register. So this piece was also just about seeing what I could do with a clarinet.

CSB: How did you see the environment for new music in Cincinnati change throughout your time here? Do you see any similarities or connections in your current location?

HS: When I arrived in Cincinnati in 2010, there were new music concerts, but what seems to have changed is that things have become more organized. There seems to be a move towards putting together different concert series to address themes that represent artists in Cincinnati (Soundbox is a great example of this) and I feel that this is a good thing because it helps foster an understanding of new music in the area for people outside of the community.
I’ve only been living in the Toronto area for a couple months and have yet to experience and understand much of the new music scene around here, so at this point it’s hard to say if I see any similarities. It’s a large and very multicultural city, and showcasing the music of immigrant communities seems to be quite important.

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

HS: Currently I’m working on a flute ensemble piece for an all-female, all-Korean flute ensemble. It will be a great opportunity for self-exploration as I am female, Korean, and a former flautist. I’m also interested in writing some music for amateur and church choirs this year as I worked as a church musician for many years.

Interview with Composer/Percussionist Ty Niemeyer

Niemeyer_headshot2Ty Niemeyer is a composer and percussionist living and working in Cleveland, Ohio. He writes music that is lyrical, delicate, and spacious. Hear his latest piece, come again premiered by violinist Jack Bogard at our April 5 Solo Soundbox concert in collaboration with Chase Public.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer and percussionist?

TN: My music often explores lyricism, delicate timbres, and sparse textures in search of spiritual expression. This season, I was appointed Principal Timpanist of the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra, and I continue to be an enthusiastic new music performer and advocate.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, come again?

TN: come again is about memory—the feeling of returning to a place you once knew, but it’s not how you remembered it. Perhaps it has changed, perhaps you have. But as time passes, the reality of our memories is lost to us.

CSB: How have you seen the new music scene in Cincinnati change over time?

TN: I’m really delighted to see how the new music scene has blossomed over the years I’ve been a part of it; there are some really great personalities spearheading interesting projects and making wonderful art.

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

CSB: April is a particularly active month for me, as the CIM Percussion Ensemble is playing my work karma at the end of the month, and I’ll be premiering a new solo timpani piece a day before. In addition, I’m playing Berio’s Circles a number of times throughout the month.

Interview with Clarinetist, Andrea Vos-Rochefort


Andrea Vos-Rochefort is a clarinetist and teaching artist living and working in Cincinnati. In addition to being an active performer, Andrea is a dedicated advocate of arts outreach and is passionate about engaging the public in unique and innovative ways. She will be performing five solo works for clarinet on our April 11 Solo Soundbox concert in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotel.

CSB: What initially drew you to performing new music, and when did this interest start?

AVR: The very first piece that drew me to new music was not necessarily new. It was Berg’s Vier Stücke for clarinet and piano. It completely changed my perspective because it redefined beauty. In that piece, each gesture contains a thousand words and it features a lyricism that is different, or seemingly out of contest, but in fact even more striking. At the very end, the clarinet tone becomes part of the ringing harmonics of the piano in an eerie stillness that is weirdly calming. I then found Berio’s Sequenza, I am not honestly sure how, and was drawn in by the intense colors and musical gestures. The next piece to shape my artistic path used physical gestures; I am referring to Stockhausen’s Der Kleine Harlekin for a dancing clarinetist and a new type of artist. As a teaching artist, I was completely on board with shaking things up and engaging the audience. Using these pieces for elementary school students and experiencing their openness to new concepts helped me realize the importance of playing the music of our own generation and shaping the future through the self-determined oral history that is performance and what gets performed or doesn’t. I also love any program that has the potential to double the number of female composers for the clarinet that immediately come to mind.

CSB: How do you approach learning a newly composed piece? 

AVR: A newly composed piece is an enigma and an opportunity because there is room to shape it. Upon receiving a piece, I will sit with it and visualize it to get an idea of the arrival points and general character without my instrument and then break it into sections for detailed practice and focus on connecting them. It is also incredibly helpful to confer with the composer and understand their motivations in writing the piece, but first I like to internalize it and find my own connection to its specific vocabulary. Once I find this for myself, I will also listen to other pieces by the composer and this often feels like a private conversation or interview that informs my performance. I do not like to limit the composer as they write the piece with the physical limitations of the clarinet but instead find a solution once I know what they have in mind.

CSB: Who are some living composers and other new music interpreters who inspire and challenge you? 

AVR: Lately,  I have been working on pieces by John Harbison (his quintet for winds), Nathan Hudson (Brace Yourselves! An Impact for Clarinet and Piano), and am itching for an opportunity to revisit Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint for clarinet and electronics and Gnarly Buttons (a concerto for clarinet) by John Adams, of which the third movement absolutely tugs at my heartstrings with its references to his father’s experience with Alzheimers. I am inspired by clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, a member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and incredibly versatile performer and composer, Yo Yo Ma himself for his adventurous spirit and heart for music education, David Krakauer, a clarinetist whose soulful voice has defined Osvaldo Golijov’s quintet for clarinet and strings, Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, the dance language of Ohad Naharin, and the art of Alina Szapocznikow and Helen Frankenthaler.

CSB: Could you tell us a bit about your experiences learning the pieces on this program?

AVR: A program of premieres can be overwhelming but each piece presents its own individual challenges which are varied and invigorating. I have been collaborating with Mara Helmuth to build a vocabulary of sounds to be processed and layered in her piece “Water Birds” and in preparation for this I have been listening to bird noises and observing their movements. “Hanabie” by Haerim Seok explores textures through layers of notes and requires fluency and freedom with regular and applied practice sessions, whereas “Snow, not Ash” by Mack Lamont requires fluent fingers but also demands flexibility and artistry in the highest registers of the clarinet. “Waves like Broken Glass” by Laura Harrison and “Ein Hauch Um Nichts” by Ellen Ruth Harrison use evocative phrasing which must also be planned through experimentation and sometimes singing through phrases without the instrument. Lastly, “Waves like Broken Glass” also utilizes multiphonics, a technique in which the air is split and multiple notes sound. This involves variations in the embouchure, air column, and specific fingerings designed to aid in the production of multiple notes. For me, the best way to practice multiphonics on the clarinet is to revisit them often until they become engrained and producing them is more like remembering how they taste than going through a process each time.

CSB: What projects and concerts are on the horizon for you?

AVR: This month, I will be performing John Harbison’s Quintet for winds on April 4th, the Cincinnati Soundbox premieres on April 11th, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with Lima Symphony on April 14th, and premiering concert:nova interactive arts workshops for high school students, one of which features a commission for our STEAM-oriented educational series, Pictures of Stars for doublebass and clarinet by Daniel Harrison. This piece is a musical illustration of two ways supernovas can form and will be used with physical experiments and visuals as we encourage students to form their own audio, visual, or physical representation. Two more workshops will feature architecture and engineering concepts using Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and an instrument building workshop exploring physical sciences. Other upcoming concerts include “Angels and War-Times” on May 12 with CT:2 Duo and Friends which will conclude my residency at the Cincinnati Public Library with pianist Clare Longendyke and feature Stravinsky’s Suite from the Histoire du Soldat, excerpts from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, Chopin’s Marche Funebre, and excerpts from A Scattered Sketchbook by Kinan Azmeh. That same week, I also will be participating in the premiere of a new opera by Justin West and Sam Ferris-Morris at the Wave Pool Gallery in Camp Washington.

Interview with Composer Joel Matthys

Matthys-JoelJoel Matthys is a composer who studied at the University of Cincinnati and now teaches at Carroll University in Wisconsin. He composes acoustic, electroacoustic, and interactive music and media which explore language, meaning, structure, and our relationship to the modern world. His latest piece, Three Dissolving Fiddle Etudes will be premiered by violinist Jack Bogard on our April 5th Solo Soundbox concert in collaboration with Chase Public

CSB: Could you tell us about the work you’ve written for this concert, Three Dissolving Fiddle Etudes?

JM: When I was first contacted about composing for Jack Bogard and Cincinnati Soundbox, I immediately responded that I wanted to do a set of pieces based on fiddling. I was a fiddler when I was a kid, and it seemed like a good challenge, because fiddle tunes are so grounded, durable. It can be hard to get past the fiddle tunes into something compositionally interesting. But I wanted to play with what happens when you strip the tunes away and are just left with the techniques of fiddling, like cross shuffles, and bariolage. The idea is that the ground falls away and we’re left with something a little more abstract.

CSB: What is your approach to writing for electronics vs. acoustic instruments?

JM: I’m really interested in exploring the behavior of systems in my pieces. I know that sounds kind of cold; what I really mean is, I like to set up a set of rules and see what happens when they play out and interact. Sometimes it takes the form of game-like elements, like in my laptop orchestra pieces. Or I use the computer to sonify some natural physical behavior. So for me it’s relatively easy to do when I’m writing electronic music, because I code everything into the computer, the sound and the behavior. But with live performers, I try to incorporate their behavior in the piece–they’re another “system,” a very complex and interesting one. I want the live performers to have some agency in my music, as active creators rather than just interpreters. And that means I try to think about options for the performer and how they will interact with the other systems in the piece, like rhythm and form. For me this is hardest with fully acoustic pieces like these fiddle etudes, because I have to try to anticipate the ways that the performer will interact with the other elements in the piece, and it all has to be expressed in musical notation and performer directions. It’s more ambiguous than code. But that’s also why it’s so rewarding.

CSB: What have you been up to since leaving Cincinnati?

JM: I took a job teaching music theory and composition at Carroll University, a school in southeastern Wisconsin with a small music program. I’ve been able to pursue a wide variety of interests, from developing aural skills and counterpoint software, to building unique new cube speakers for my laptop group CLIME (Carroll Laptop and Innovative Music Ensemble), to introducing a music therapy program.  I’ve taken the university wind ensemble to Perugia in central Italy to perform my wind ensemble piece Eclipse, and I’ve been active as a jazz pianist in and around Milwaukee. And then there’s Walter and Mabel, my four-year-old and two-year-old. They keep my wife and I very busy!

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your agenda?

JM: I’m working on a number of chamber pieces for a composition recital next spring, both acoustic and electronic. I’m developing software to automatically check music theory assignments for part-writing errors, which ought to make my life easier (and make a lot of music theory teachers happy too). And I’m planning a “flash mob” with my laptop orchestra in a coffee shop this spring–oops, I’ve said too much!

Interview with Composer Sullivan Boecker

Sullivan Boecker is a composer who studied in Cincinnati and is now based in Cleveland. He writes detailed, daring works for a variety of ensembles. His latest piece, threading, will be premiered by violinist Jack Bogard on our April 5th Solo Soundbox concert in collaboration with Chase Public.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?

SB: Most of my work up to this point has been a hodgepodge of different styles exploring many different concepts. More recently my work deals with themes of focus, deconstruction, and situational contingency. I’m very interested in what happens when a performer and audience is placed in a situation where the same material is flipped ever so slightly. Through processes of deconstruction or glacial modification the focus is jarred, forcing a refocus into a slightly different, if not totally unfamiliar, situation.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, threading?

SB: threading continues this exploration of focus, deconstruction, and situational contingency. These are ideas that I focus on in most of my work and am always discovering new limits for certain material. In threading the foundational material is a simple four-note motive. I take the actions of the performer and the music itself—their finger placement, finger pressure, rhythm, and general pitch area—and subject them to small changes that make for a completely different resultant sound.

CSB: What connections have you found between the new music scenes in Cincinnati and Cleveland?

SB: I’m not sure that I know the New Music scene in Cleveland deeply enough to make much of a comparison. From what I can tell it is pretty similar. Cleveland is a much bigger city than Cincinnati and therefore has many different venues for all types of music. From East side to West side two different venues can be a half hour away from each other. Other than size, Cleveland and Cincinnati are fairly similar from what I can tell, which really isn’t much.

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

SB: The Eschaton Ensemble at Vanderbilt is playing a new chamber orchestra piece of mine. I’m collaborating with Neil Beckman, a good friend and guitarist, on a new piece for solo classical guitar and am also working on revising a string quartet I wrote three years ago, also for friends. I’m working on getting a sound installation going in the apartment I’m living in as well as some other performances of pieces for voice/recitation using new visual poetry that I might also parlay into strictly “musical” performances with some friends. Looking ahead, there’s a lot going on. Always with friends. It’s great!