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Keeril Makan Interview

Posted on 08 November 2007. © Copyright 2004-2020 Composition:Today

C:T talks to composer Keeril Makan. Keeril is the Assistant Professor Music at MIT. His Afterglow written for Parisian pianist Ivan Ilic is currently being premiered worldwide

Tell us something about your background.

I grew up in New Jersey of Indian and Russian-Jewish heritage. My initial music studies were in violin and oboe, and composing grew out of my experience with these instruments. Although I've never formally studied the classical music traditions of India, the music itself has held an enduring place in my life, alongside music in the Western classical tradition as well as a variety of popular musics. In a sense, I've always thought of Western classical music as one more example of so-called "world music", and no more privileged than any other music tradition.

How did you start composing?

When I was sixteen, I attended the Interlochen Arts Camp as a violinist. As a student there I took classes in composition. On the first day, the instructor said something that stuck with me, which was "composing is like painting- time is your canvas and sound your palette--go compose!" He really didn't offer any more instruction than that, which I think was crucial. Since I was not presented with any musical models to follow, I had to rely upon the music that I knew, and create my own music either through synthesis or abstraction. I feel like I've forged new territory because this has continued to be the case.

Which composers have influenced you the most?

I'm not sure there is an answer this question. The assumption might be that there are certain composers that I really like and identify with most, but they're not necessarily the ones that have influenced me most. I suppose some of the composers who have deeply influenced me are the ones that I've studied with: Edmund Campion, Randolph Coleman, Cindy Cox, Edward Dugger, Richard Hoffmann, Philippe Leroux, Jorge Liderman, Edward Miller, John Thow, David Wessel, and Olly Wilson. Each one of these composers has shown me what it means for them to be an artist. Observing this has helped me frame the question for myself.

Which non-musical influences have affected your music most?

Probably the unique aspects of the various places where I've lived; from New Jersey, Ohio and the San Francisco bay area, to London, Paris, and Helsinki. The specific cultural artifacts, physical environments, and everything that has affected me about those places are too numerous to detail here. But they are all with me and definitely have had a lasting impact on my music.

What drives your work, what are you passions?

My passion is being in touch with sound in as tangible a way as possible. To momentarily break down the boundary between my sense of self and my perception through this engagement. I'm driven by sound, but I'm also driven by deadlines. These segment my exploration of sound into discrete, focused pieces of various lengths and formations.

Do you have a routine? A place that's special

Each piece is different. The only commonality is that I start composing by playing the instruments that I'm writing for, to feel the way the instrument vibrates in my hands and body.

What's the craziest idea for a piece you've ever had?

I'd like to create a piece for resonating walls- a specially created room that bathes the listener in vibrations. Not loud, but physically very present; an enveloping sonic experience that shapes time for the listener in a very personal way.

What are you working on at the moment

I'm writing a 10-minute piece for one cymbal, placed upside-down on a snare drum, which will be premiered at the Other Minds festival in San Francisco in March 2008 by percussionist David Shively.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm developing an opera with poet Jena Osman. The work takes a look at certain inventions by the 19th-century French scientist Etienne-Jules Marey and traces their relationship to present day technologies. This work questions the common assumption that if systems of nature can be technologically replicated the result will be positive universal progress, independent of the cultural and political climate in which the technology was conceived. The unexpected impact (both positive and negative) of technology's actual relationship to contemporary society is the focus of this work.

How can people find out more about you?

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2020

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